- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

Karl Malone checks out of the game with 36,928 points, three appearances in the NBA Finals, two MVP awards and one unsatisfying hole in the portfolio.

Malone never won an NBA championship, the one flaw in an otherwise impeccable career.

He certainly was made of championship fiber, his 6-foot-9, 256-pound body seemingly chiseled out of stone and his sense of resolve undeniable. Yet, for whatever reasons, whether injury or the lack of a viable center in Utah or the sway Michael Jordan once held with referees, Malone is putting up his basketball shoes without the one achievement that prompted his one-season experiment with the Lakers at chump change rates.

The absence of a championship ring notwithstanding, Malone leaves an ample legacy, numbers galore and, most important, a persuasive lesson plan. He was hardly the most gifted power forward in his 19 seasons. Yet through persistence and buckets of sweat, he became the best there ever was at the position.

He learned to convert the outside shot. He also became a consistent free throw shooter.

He was Shaq-like at the free throw line long before Shaq became synonymous with free throw misery. Malone shot 48.1 percent at the free throw line as a rookie with the Jazz, improved to 59.8 percent the next season and then evolved into someone who routinely converted three-fourths of his charity tosses.

That was no small development, considering Malone’s high number of trips to the free throw line each game.

Malone was a self-made player in many respects, old school to a fault, reflective of the coach, Jerry Sloan, who prowled the sidelines through most of his career. Malone played mostly on the floor and perfected every nuance there was in the low post.

His assorted shots ranged from unorthodox to those attempts intended to elicit contact and a referee’s whistle. Defending Malone was thankless and frustrating work, no fun at all, because he might deliver an equal number of elbows and karate kicks to go with his 25 points.

Malone sometimes employed the tactics of a dirty player, if only out of self-preservation, and ever more as he became older and more anchored to the floor. He lacked the athletic dimension and height of Kevin Garnett. He lacked the footwork of Kevin McHale. His shooting range never extended beyond 18 feet. He was no shot-blocker either. His defensive work was body-to-body, bump-for-bump, with hands quick enough to strip the ball.

Malone was a no-frills sort, unpolished to a degree, hardly fluid or nimble, who came at opponents like the 18-wheelers he took to driving in the offseason. He was as subtle as a sledgehammer. He was no favorite of basketball aficionados beyond Salt Lake City, mostly because of his roughhewed manner and robot-like efficiency. He punched 25-10 into the box score with a time card-like quality.

His was not a pretty style, just consistently effective. His unrefined parts added up to a refined whole. He lived off the pick-and-roll play with running mate John Stockton, the purest of point guards. The Stockton-to-Malone call, as delivered by team announcer Hot Rod Hundley, came to be a catchphrase of Utah.

Malone showed himself to be the consummate professional with the Lakers as he subjugated his individual needs to those of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. If becoming the game’s all-time leading scorer ever were his priority, then going to the Lakers would have been last on his list of options.

The player who was once so durable injured his knee in the regular season and again in the NBA Finals, which no doubt contributed mightily to the implosion of the Lakers. A healthy Malone could have proved to be the difference against the Pistons.

Malone thought long and hard about making one last championship push, this time with the Spurs, before deciding that it was time to leave on his terms. No regrets are necessary for the previously little-known player out of Louisiana Tech selected with the 13th pick overall in the 1985 NBA Draft.

He became the gold standard of power forwards in the NBA.

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