For Lakers' Malone, 40, retirement may be near

ON THE NBA

March 14, 2004|By MILTON KENT

Most NBA players consider a stay on the injured list a part of the price of doing business at the highest level. With all the running, jumping and exertion the long season requires, time in the whirlpool is to be expected, and only the masochistic or the self-delusional would figure not to have some down time.

And then there's Karl Malone, 40, the rugged Los Angeles Lakers power forward who apparently believed he could go his entire career without going on the injured list, then went into denial when he did, missing 39 games because of a knee injury.

"It's been one of those things where if I would have gotten up early one morning and [the knee] had been bothering me, I would have said my body let me down," said Malone during the Lakers' visit to Washington last month. "But because of the freak nature of the injury I just said it wasn't really my body that let me down, it was just one of those things that happens in sports."

Malone, who signed with the Lakers as a free agent in the offseason after 18 years in Utah, suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee Dec. 21 when Scott Williams, then of the Phoenix Suns, fell on the knee. Before this season, Malone had only missed 10 games - six of those because of injury.

Malone desperately wanted to return for last Monday's game against the Jazz in Salt Lake City to gain some revenge for what he perceived was a personal attack by the organization as part of a skit during the Lakers' earlier visit in January to the Delta Center.

However, the Lakers and Malone thought it more prudent not to rush, so the Mailman didn't get to deliver on his old route, waiting until Friday's game in Minnesota before returning to the lineup.

Indeed, Malone has had enough emotional and physical trauma - the stay on the injured list, the offseason death of his mother, and the continuing battle of Bobbye Sloan, wife of Jazz coach Jerry, against cancer - to make Malone wonder whether it's not time to quit delivering.

"It [retirement] is a lot closer than a lot of people realize," said Malone. "You actually think about retiring years before you have to. Then all of a sudden, time just speeds up and you just say, `OK, I'm going to have to make a decision here.' And basically, not that I've made up my mind, I'm there. Whether it's a year or two years, I'm into that zone. But I welcome that. Business has been very good to me away from basketball. But absolutely, I can see the end coming quick."

More than likely, the end won't come before a real mailman delivers a championship ring to Malone's house.

Quiz

How many of the seven players currently averaging 20 points, five assists and five rebounds a game, minimum of 35 games played, can you name?

Kinder, gentler time

One should, of course, never say never, but it's hard to imagine that the NBA will face the kind of public relations nightmare that the NHL is in, relative to the savage beating Todd Bertuzzi inflicted on Steve Moore last week for a number of reasons.

One of them is that with the kind of player movement in the NBA today, the guy you have a grudge against now could be your teammate tomorrow. Another is that the heavy fines and suspensions being laid out against players and coaches seemingly for merely sneezing tend to make getting physical a nonsensical move.

More to the point, NBA players seem to be in a more mellow mood than their predecessors, or hadn't you noticed all the handshaking and hugging before the opening tips of games?

Still, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, who played in the 1970s, says there are still a few head knockers around in the game, but you have to look carefully for them.

"You can be an enforcer under the rules and regulations of the game," said Jordan. "Some teams have them. There are Ron Artests out there and Kenyon Martin and Karl Malone and Horace Grant. Those types of guys are bruising power forwards that keep the peace, so to speak. That's the physical presence and leadership that we always talk about that helps teams get better."

Reporter fails test

From this perspective, Portland guard Damon Stoudamire wasn't the only person in the wrong with that impromptu drug test that he took more than a week ago. The Oregonian columnist, John Canzano, should never have put Stoudamire in that position.

Professional and collegiate athletes really do have a right of privacy, and it's not for do-gooder reporters to violate that right in the name of selling a few papers or trying to prove a point.

Canzano put Stoudamire in an untenable position, and the point guard, who had had three marijuana incidents in 18 months, knew it. Stoudamire could take the test, with the possibility that he could fail it, or refuse to take it, leaving the implication that he had something to hide.

After the test, Canzano wrote: "It's not the job of a journalist to police athletes." Too bad he didn't take that lesson to heart before he did just that.

Quiz answer

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