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Stockton-to-Malone Week: Karl’s work ethic and disdain for pain were…wait for it…legendary.

August 6, 2010

Days from now, Karl Malone will join John Stockton and Jerry Sloan in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Let’s fete and honor the greatest duo in NBA history with Stockton-to-Malone Week. S2M Week is brought to you by my digital pack ratting, est. circa 1995.

When you talk about Karl Malone’s work ethic and singular disdain and disregard for pain, it’s really enough to cite a few statistics.

6 games missed due to injury out of 1,444 regular season games over 18 seasons (a 99.6% attendance rate). Never missed more than 2 games in one season due to injury. Didn’t miss a game due to injury between April 1989 and March 2002. The two games missed in 1989 due to a sprained ankle were not by choice. Karl wanted to play, but the Jazz trainers wouldn’t let him.

Just to put that into perspective, the ’08-’09 Jazz team doubled Stockton and Malone’s career missed games (37 seasons) one month into the season. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Mark Eaton once talked about how he often had nagging injuries and wasn’t feeling up to playing, but when he was in that locker room pre-game and saw Stockton and Malone’s focus, he didn’t dare not play. I don’t think that kind of locker room leadership exists today.

For those that crave a little more:

An hour earlier, the Jazz had disposed of the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs…[Karl is icing his ankles and shins in “an oversized yellow mop bucket with enough ice to form a baby glacier.”] He hates the cold but his swollen ankles and bruised shins respond to the ice.

Malone squirms slightly in his seat, the little chair crying “Uncle!” under his 260 pounds. Good friend Ike Austin sits nearby. This is the extent of Malone’s entourage. He’ll drive home in the family Chevy. Right now the old codger has injured tendons in the middle finger of his shooting hand [which, when unbandaged, flopped around]. Postseason surgery is a given. He has a bruised hip. A sprained wrist. A tender ankle. A tweaked knee. And that’s just the stuff that has leaked out…

Earlier in the series-clinching victory against the Rockets, the ball struck the tip of his right forefinger, causing a blood blister the size of a sequin to swell behind the nail. A needle was heated and brought to Malone, who worked it betweeen the skin and the nail and lanced the blister himself. He didn’t bother to wince.

In last year’s conference finals, Malone burned three layers of skin from the palm of his shooting hand after skidding long and hard against the floor. Jazz trainers did what they could, but the palm was so gory that Jazz assistant trainer Terry Clark compared it to raw meat. Malone played the rest of the series, then averaged 23.8 points against the Bulls in the Finals–and never made a peep.

His August workout routine at his ranch in Arkansas is legendary. Wake up at 6 a.m. An hour on the StairMaster–level 12. A morning spent doing sprint work at a local high school track. Then stadium stairs. Then weight lifting. Then another hour on the StairMaster…At the peak of his fitness mania, Malone will return to Salt Lake and teach a pair of one-hour spinning classes at a local health club. (“Stand and Deliver” – Gene Wojciechowski; ESPN Magazine 6/15/98)

“Special Delivery: The Amazing Basketball Career of Karl Malone” by Clay Latimer* goes into more detail:

[Ike] Austin tried to keep pace with Malone during a summer visit, but by dinnertime, after all the running and lifting, he was ready for some downtime.

“When I got back from lifting, I just fell asleep, right there on the table,” Austin said. “Everybody was laughing, and Karl was like, well, ‘Man, just go to your room.'”

Denver Nuggets coach Bill Hanzlik was in Salt Lake City with his young team in the summer of 1997 when he saw Malone working out in a downtown health club.

It was a Sunday morning.

“I told him how much I respected him, back when I was playing, and still today,” Hanzlik said. As he was leaving, Hanzlik wished his team had seen Malone as well. “I said to heck with this and woke up the players and brought them over,” said Hanzlik, who found Malone teaching an aerobics class when he returned with his players.

“Karl was in the middle of a spin class, dripping sweat, soaking wet. The rookies stood there for 15 minutes just watching him.” When Malone was finished, he delivered a little sermon to Hanzlik’s players.

“That one meeting was worth more than the whole 10 days we spent in summer camp.”

*Just a little anecdote of my own: “Special Delivery” was given to me by a guy I had a class with in college. Although we were in the same class, we’d never spoken until one day he happened to be walking by my dorm room when the door was open, and saw my Jazz flag and Malone/Stockton/Hornacek poster. Turns out that his mom was from Utah, and he was a Jazz fan too. After that, we had plenty to talk about :)

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