THE JAZZ MASTER
Jazz forward Karl Malone knows Michael Jordan will win the
league MVP trophy again. He also concedes that the Bulls will
win the NBA championship, unless, he says, "a team like us can
play the way we did during that stretch when we won 15 in a row"
from early November to December.
There are certain things you come to accept when you're 33 and
you're in your 12th year with Utah, a small-market franchise
that is consistently excellent yet repeatedly falls short of a
championship. For instance, even though you've averaged 26.1
points and 10.8 rebounds per game for your career, you know that
fans voting for the Western Conference All-Stars will bypass you
in favor of Sonics forward Shawn Kemp, 27, who brings down the
house with his rim-rattling dunks. And even if you've led your
team to the best record in the West and been its leading scorer
in 29 of the last 32 games, as Malone had through Sunday, you
know the chances of taking the title of best player from Jordan
"I believe the MVP trophy is given out at the Finals," says
Malone, who still finds it hard to believe the media vote before
the postseason. "Michael is there all the time, so who else
would you pick? But if I was in the Finals and he was there, I
think I'd have an unbelievable shot."
Malone admits he was disappointed when Kemp outdistanced him by
more than 375,000 votes at the ballot box this season but says
he no longer needs to be recognized by fans as the game's
dominant power forward. "It has a lot to do with television
commercials," Malone says. "If people see your face a lot, and
you put up decent numbers, you're set."
Malone has never been a part of the NBA's chic crowd. Maybe it's
because he has never been afraid to speak his mind, whether he
was voicing his concerns about playing against HIV-infected
Magic Johnson or criticizing some of the game's biggest stars
for wanting to decertify the players' union in 1995. "I don't
get invited to play in charity games, and I don't play golf,"
says Malone. "I like to gamble, but I don't go to Vegas or
Atlantic City. I go to West Wendover [Nev.], or I'll stop by
Shreveport [La.] and try some of the riverboats. I don't want to
Some players have mistaken his individualism for snobbishness
and aloofness. Malone says he fell into a similar trap in
forming his opinion of Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal. "He
didn't like me, and I didn't like him," says Malone. "Then I
found out Shaquille had a poster of me on his wall growing up in
San Antonio. I kept seeing him [last summer] at the Olympics. We
were the only two guys lifting weights every night. Finally,
after a week of not talking to each other, he said something,
and I said something back, and now we're friends." (Malone
invited O'Neal to go hunting and fishing at his cabin in Alaska,
but Shaq had a movie to make and songs to record.)
Malone has missed only four games in his career, and at week's
end he had played in 446 consecutive games. Though he
acknowledges that he and guard John Stockton log too many
minutes in the regular season, he says, "I'd rather die at the
finish line knowing I gave every minute of every game. Too many
guys sit and rest for the playoffs."
Through Sunday, Malone had scored 30 or more points in nine of
his last 11 games, including 36 in a 115-106 win at Minnesota on
Sunday--a game in which he tallied his 25,000th career point. In
so doing, he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Elvin
Hayes and Moses Malone in the 25,000-point, 10,000-rebound club.
Reaching that milestone capped a remarkable 11-day run. In a
118-114 home victory over the Raptors on Feb. 27, Malone turned
in his second career triple-double: 32 points, 13 rebounds, 10
assists. He had a season-high 41 points in a 111-104 road win
over the Warriors on March 3 and matched that total four nights
later in a 95-88 home win over the Pistons, prompting Detroit
coach Doug Collins to laud him for being as "consistent as
Last October, Stockton signed a three-year contract that will
allow him to end his career in Utah. Malone's deal runs two more
seasons, although he reportedly has an unwritten agreement with
Jazz owner Larry Miller for an additional year.
Malone admits he daydreams about playing for other teams on
which the load would be lighter and the rewards might be
greater. Asked for his blueprint for the future, he merely
smiles and replies, "We'll see."
Ever since Doug Collins became Pistons coach in 1995, he has
prodded Grant Hill to take charge of the Detroit offense and not
be afraid to venture into the teeth of the defense at crunch
time. Hill has heeded that advice this season, but as a result
he faces a new challenge: drawing more calls from the officials.
"It's frustrating," Collins says. "A lot of guys have been
bumping Grant, especially lately. They're riding him the whole
time, even out on the perimeter."
Through Sunday, Hill was on pace to go to the line 616 times
this season, compared to the 511 trips he made his rookie year
and 646 last season. After drawing only three technicals in his
first two seasons, he has been whistled for four in 1996-97. "In
the past, if the call didn't go my way, I'd shrug my shoulders
and move on," says Hill. "Not anymore. I want the officials to
realize I'm going to argue some of these calls."
Hill's goal is to reach the status of Jordan, who almost always
receives the benefit of the doubt from officials. Collins, who
coached Jordan for three seasons in Chicago, says the referees'
respect for Jordan was immediate. "Michael always had that
glare," he says. "He would say something and the refs took it
in, and he'd never get a T. But believe me, what he was saying
was no different from what any of the other guys said."
LINE OF THE WEEK
Heat guard Tim Hardaway, March 7, versus Washington: 51 minutes,
13-25 field goals, 13-14 free throws, a career-high 45 points, 7
assists, 7 rebounds. By knocking off the Bullets, 108-105 in
overtime, the Heat won its 45th game of the season, thereby
guaranteeing Hardaway a $500,000 bonus.
AROUND THE RIM
Problem child Isaiah Rider's latest adventure had him missing
the Trail Blazers' charter from Portland to Phoenix on March 4.
Rider took a commercial flight the next morning but then missed
the team bus to the arena. It was his sixth violation of team
rules this season....Of the 63 lottery picks from 1986 to '92,
15 are out of the league and only eight have never changed
teams: Spurs center David Robinson, Pacers center Rik Smits,
Magic guard-forward Dennis Scott, Sonics guard Gary Payton,
Kings forward Lionel Simmons, Cavaliers guard Terrell Brandon,
Nuggets forward LaPhonso Ellis and Sixers forward Clarence
Weatherspoon....Magic Johnson wants to be inducted into the Hall
of Fame alongside friend and former rival Larry Bird, who is
eligible for selection in 1998, but it doesn't seem likely.
Johnson petitioned Hall officials to waive the five-year waiting
period between a player's retirement and his eligibility for
induction (his short-lived comeback last season delays his
eligibility until 2001), but he was denied.
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER To little fanfare, Iron Man Malone has carried Utah to the best record in the West. [Karl Malone in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER A more aggressive Hill (33) is learning to cry foul if refs don't give him the calls a star deserves. [Grant Hill in game]
EVEN MORE STING?
The Hornets surrendered a lot of firepower in trades over the
last two seasons, but it turns out that--at least
statistically--the players Charlotte acquired have more than
made up for those who were sent packing. The chart below shows
averages for the Hornets' three highest scorers of two years
ago, when Charlotte had 50 wins, and for the franchise's three
major acquisitions on this season's team, which at week's end
was on track to win 53 times.
Player/Position Pts. Rebs. Assts.
Alonzo Mourning/C 21.3 9.9 1.4
Larry Johnson/F 18.8 7.2 4.6
Hersey Hawkins/G 14.3 3.8 3.2
TOTALS 54.4 20.9 9.2
Glen Rice/G 26.3 4.1 2.1
Anthony Mason/F 17.0 11.3 5.8
Vlade Divac/C 13.1 9.5 3.4
TOTALS 56.4 24.9 11.3
*Through March 9