Karl Malone doesn’t want to talk to me.
And he wants to talk to you only about the good times, not the bad, not about the issue that has rightly attracted public attention, but which he has never fully addressed.
In 1983, 20-year-old Malone got 13-year-old Gloria Bell pregnant.
It was first reported 25 years ago, though it was often conveniently overlooked — like during NBA All-Star Weekend. The former Jazz star was invited by the league to participate and be glorified as a dunk contest judge, only to be heralded as a legend shortly after the league named him one of its 75 greatest players of all time.
That’s why he showed up for a scheduled media availability at a downtown hotel on Friday. After conducting several interviews with reporters seated at various tables, Malone informed a media representative that he would speak with reporters from the Salt Lake Tribune and others from the same station only if the columnist waiting with them left the area. He wanted me to leave.
What I did? Malone and I had our ups and downs during his extended stint here years ago, but I figured it was all good now. He invited me to his house once for a pool party and to his ranch in Louisiana or Arkansas, wherever, two very kind invitations that I declined. He appeared on my radio show many times. In fact, that was the last time I spoke to him.
On Friday, suddenly, decades later, he was having none of it.
What had worried the Postman?
I do not know.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. For him, it was just another attempt to avoid responsibility, to hold onto anger, to avoid the expected hard questions.
Then Malone will judge the dunks on Saturday night. He and the NBA want to distract you from these hard questions and harder answers. Let the spectacle and the status quo overwhelm you. Remove you from the discourse as well.
Bell told The Tribune in 1998 that her family never considered criminal charges against Malone because he was a “neighborhood kid” and could not provide child support from prison. But a 20-year-old man impregnating a 13-year-old is statutory rape. Being an NBA legend doesn’t wash that away.
As mentioned, this has been widely known for a long time, but times have changed. With greater awareness, assertive attitudes, demands for accountability, the lens on these issues has sharpened. When the Tribune first reported on Malone’s indiscretions in 1998 — including a paternity battle over twins Malone fathered to a 17-year-old when he was 17 — some readers were deeply disturbed. However, many Jazz fans and some members of the media continued to cheer and/or cover Malone as always, focusing more on what the NBA All-Star did on the court rather than what he did in the juniors. you are years away from him.
Malone initially denied paternity and later agreed to a settlement that reportedly did not require him to admit he was the child’s father. He buried his head in the sand when he had to get up to handle his responsibilities. Eventually, reluctantly, some kind of reconciliation came, and Malone acknowledged the child, Demetres Bell, and Malone is now in a relationship with Bell, 38, a retired NFL lineman.
But the popularity of the documentary The Last Dance brought Malone and his misdeeds back into the public consciousness.
Type his name into Google or Twitter and see the flood of responses.
“I know people talk negatively about me,” Malone said Friday. But when the reporter, Eric Walden of The Tribune, asked him about the backlash now coming because of his mistakes, he said he didn’t want to talk about his personal life. He had no further comment.
He must have many comments.
Apologists say this is ancient history. Critics say it should be remembered—confronted, condemned, and used as a tool to teach everyone.
“He made a mistake, but at the end of the day, he’s still a great dad,” Malone’s son, KJ Malone, said in a video he posted on social media in 2020. “He still cares for Demetres.”
But Malone himself has said nothing of substance. He continues to seek your respect and adoration, but until he admits his mistakes, explains his follow-up, can you believe that he has changed? What should we do with it?
Malone has always been an enigma to me, all the more surprising because he can seem like such a straight-laced, rustic guy. But the internal conflicts, the contradictions that remain still, blow on you with the subtlety of a shower horn.
Representative of his moderate personal inconsistencies is this: Malone was a huge slice of humanity that few NBA players, regardless of their size, wanted to mess with. He elbowed David Robinson in the forehead, dropped him like a rock and nobody messed with him. He once almost split Isaiah Thomas’ face during a game. On the other hand, he was and is about as sensitive a man as he remains, quick to hurt his feelings, slow to forgive those he thought or thought had hurt him.
When Malone wrestled Dennis Rodman, along with Diamond Dallas Page and Hulk Hogan, in that infamous, ridiculous exhibition prank 25 years ago in San Diego, Carl, a lifelong wrestling fan, played the hordes, climbing the ropes, lifting his fists above his head, trying to get the crowd to erupt into a friendly frenzy. Instead, the crowd turned on him, chanting “Utah sucks… Utah sucks… Utah sucks.” The look that came over Malone’s face at that moment revealed the hurt, insecure little boy who lived in the mountain of a man.
I am not Sigmund Freud. I don’t know why his feelings are harsh.
I was standing nearby on the Friday before I knew I was banned, listening to his words. The mind, Malone’s mind, was now filled with his own version of perspective, insight and paranoia, and the end of the years brought, he said, a new understanding. But like the physical form, the lively attitude was intact. It was semi-challenging and nothing more than… what’s the word? … tailored.
He was amused by the questions they asked themselves, sometimes reading into them a dimension that was completely unexpected. Classic Malone again. You may remember when, during his retirement announcement, Carl let everyone on hand know not to mess with his family because he, like Wolverine, would attack back, as if anyone needed such a warning.
He repeated something similar during Friday’s interviews. He talks about the fantastic athletes playing the game now, but he has a problem with players taking days off, not enjoying the job the way he did. He said his mindset when playing was to “answer the bell every night.” He expressed gratitude for what his mother taught him when he was a child, emphasizing the lesson of “hard work.” He said he misses the camaraderie surrounding the game, but he channels and earns the thrill of competition called into basketball now through his business pursuits. He said he lives in the moment with no regrets about missing out on a championship. He was talking about family. He became emotional talking about the late Larry Miller and the late Jerry Sloan, two people who influenced him greatly during his playing years, crediting them with helping him become the player he was and the man he is. . He said, “You know when you are [being] disrespected. I have feelings.” He said, “Words do two things – they build up or they tear down.” He said he wanted respect more than anything. “If you respect me, I respect you.”
And therein lies the problem. How much should we respect Karl Anthony Malone?
Should we remember him as a great player, as a gifted scorer, as a solid rebounder, as a ruthless and determined force on the floor, as a proud veteran who called younger professionals “hoods,” as a free-spirited and sometimes careless individual, as an insecure man, who harbors a grudge? Should we be looking for two pounds of pain and punishment for his past misbehavior that requires further explanation, further comment, because as a role model he influences the behavior of others, especially as he continues to be revered by the NBA?
Do you want to love it or hate it or hide parts of both?
No one is perfect, he has done positive, remarkable, charitable things, but his flaws, whenever they appear, are easily considered serious.
His statue on the southeast concourse of the arena where the All-Star game will be played may rightly commemorate him as a player, but what about a man? The mountain of man? The measure of man? Only Malone can specifically address this. And he must, plainly and frankly, to the Jazz fans who stood and cheered him on, some waiting for answers, many others now looking for explanations, wishing he would never again hide in a back alley, remaining the contradiction, the enigma he was.