by Daniel Olsen
Since February is Black History Month, we will be focusing on the great black players in the sports history of the Beehive State. This week’s feature is Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz.
The Mailman who always delivered
In a state where history is largely focused on the early Pioneers who came to the Salt Lake Valley, there are many important figures in black history who have made a great impact on the state. One of those important figures is Karl Malone.
Malone grew up in Summerfield, Louisiana and learned to work at an early age on the family farm. He had to do his part as the youngest of nine children. His father died by suicide when Malone was just three years old.
Malone was the team leader at Summerfield High School and lead his team to three state titles. He would stay close to home for college as he made the 34 mile drive to play for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, and led his team to their first NCAA tournament appearance in team history in 1985. Malone was the pride of the Southland Conference as he finished as an All-Southland selection in all three years with the team.
Malone was drafted 13th overall by the Utah Jazz. The Jazz were just six years removed from re-locating to Utah from Malone’s home state of Louisiana. He experienced an entirely different culture upon his arrival in Utah.
On his birthday he saw a parade and thought it was to welcome him to Salt Lake City. It was actually the annual Pioneer Day Celebration to celebrate when the early settlers of Utah arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.
Malone and Stockton became a dynamic duo who would make it to two consecutive NBA Finals, only to be thwarted by Michael Jordan. They were still honored with statues outside the arena, neighboring streets named after them, and retired jerseys hanging from the rafters.
Malone finished his career with two MVP seasons, 14 NBA All-Star selections (two of them with All-Star MVP honors), and the second most points scored in NBA history. He also is seventh in rebounds in NBA history.
Malone embraced Salt Lake City’s culture as he put on a show every night. In a way, the man born on Pioneer Day was a pioneer for black players who arrived in Salt Lake City.
Other Jazz players in black history:
If we had to make a Mount Rushmore of the top four black Jazz players in history, Malone would be the first person on this list. Along with the Mailman, there have been other talented black players who have played for the Jazz. Darrell Griffith, also known as “Dr. Dunkenstein”, was the first Utah Jazz player to participate the first NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984. While he didn’t win, he did earn a fun nickname for his impressive dunks.
Another Jazz player who already deserves to be on this list is Donovan Mitchell. He won the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest his rookie year and made his first All-Star game last year. Off the court, Mitchell has been one of the outspoken young athletes in the NBA regarding civil rights. In the NBA bubble, he had the words “Say her name” on the back of his jersey. It was in reference to the death of Breonna Taylor and the fact that the cops who killed her in her own house still haven’t been arrested.
Lastly, we have to remember the original star of the 1971 ABA championship Utah Stars team: Ron Boone. While he was a star back then, he has done even more for the team now as a broadcaster for the Jazz since 1988. He always provides insight on the radio call with his pre-game shoot around report and commentary during the game.
Plenty of other black former Jazz players deserve recognition, specifically Adrian Dantley, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Bryon Russell and Rudy Gobert. Also, Tyrone Corbin was the first and only black head coach for the Utah Jazz. Thurl Bailey was also an important member of several great Jazz teams. These players have done great things for the Utah Jazz, and it was Malone who paved the way for them to be able to do so.
This is a weekly series sponsored by the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Museum in Salt Lake City. The museum is located at 99 W So Temple, suite 102, outside of the north entrance to Nordstrom at the City Creek Center. It is free to visit and is open from 11 AM – 7 PM Monday thru Saturday.