Malone tops Jordan for MVP
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ For 12 years, Karl Malone gave his record-setting best to the Utah Jazz, taking one of professional basketball’s smallest market clubs to four conference finals in six years.
On Sunday, the NBA gave its archetypical power forward its best: The Maurice Podoloff Trophy, signifying the league’s Most Valuable Player award for the 1996-1997 season.
At a Delta Center news conference following the announcement in New York, Malone confessed he had come to believe he might not ever win the honor, which has been won four times by Michael Jordan.
``I thank Michael for letting me borrow it for one year,″ he quipped.
Malone’s victory over Jordan was the second-closest balloting since the media vote began in 1981. He edged the Chicago Bulls star by just 29 points.
``To have this trophy after 12 years _ really and truly I never thought I’d have the opportunity,″ Malone said. ``But we won 64 games and I think they looked a lot at that, too.
Malone received 986 points and 63 first-place votes while Jordan got 957 points and 52 first-place ballots from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.
The only closer vote was when Magic Johnson beat Charles Barkley by 22 points in 1989-90.
``This year has been special to me, but I’m not finished yet. And I have this good feeling, if we keep our nose to the grindstone,″ Malone said.
Utah’s perennial All-Star said he had not talked to Jordan about the award but predicted the two ``might say something before tipoff″ if Utah and Chicago meet in the NBA Finals.
To a tearful Jazz owner Larry Miller fell the duty of presenting the MVP trophy at the news conference. ``I’m just as proud of you as I can be,″ he told Malone.
Malone, who had been holding his young son, first handed Karl Jr. to wife Kay, sitting off-stage, before accepting the award.
Another ceremony was scheduled with NBA Commissioner David Stern before tonight’s Game 1 of the Utah-Houston Western Conference Finals matchup.
Malone, whose best previous MVP finish were thirds in 1988-89 and 1994-95, averaged 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists, leading Utah to the best record in the Western Conference at 64-18.
He was second in scoring, sixth in field goal percentage (55.0) and 11th in rebounding this season.
Malone acknowledged he had thought about the MVP award and his personal statistics early in his career, but later took the advice of his mother Shirley Turner, who beamed from her seat: ```When you stop thinking about it, it will happen.‴
``And the one year I’ve had the most fun I’ve ever had ... all of a sudden I win the award,″ he said.
Twenty players had at least one vote in the balloting by the 115-member panel. Voters listed five players in order of preference and points were awarded on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis.
Detroit’s Grant Hill was third with 376 points followed by Miami’s Tim Hardaway (238), Charlotte’s Glen Rice (134) and Seattle’s Gary Payton (105).
Malone and Jordan were the only players named on all 115 ballots. Besides his 63 firsts, Malone received 48 seconds and four thirds. Jordan had 61 seconds and two thirds to go with his 52 firsts.
``He’s never stopped doing the things we asked him to do,″ Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Malone. ``As great as he’s become, it’s due to hard work. Work has never been something he’s shied away from.″
This year, putting the lie to sports pundits’ predictions of a downturn in his performance, Malone _ who turns 34 in July _ scored over 2,000 points for an NBA record 10th consecutive season. He also passed Jerry West for 10th place on the league’s career scoring list with 25,592 points, just 22 points behind Alex English.
Malone is one of just five players who have 25,000 points and 10,000 rebounds. The others are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes.
``It’s great,″ said teammate Jeff Hornacek. ``He’s played great all year and he came into this year with the attitude that we’re going to take that next step. Karl was definitely the leader, the one who’s carried us.″
A star from Louisiana Tech when Utah drafted him in 1985, Malone quickly proved he belonged in the NBA with his bruising play and trademark ``hammer dunk.″
Still, he launched a year-in, year-out weightlifting regimen that packed 256 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-9 frame.
Coming early and staying late at practice, he also added to his scoring arsenal potent fadeaway and perimeter jump shots, and improved his once-horrid free throw shooting.
Never averaging less than 25 points a game after his rookie season, Malone anchored Utah’s playoff string (second only to Portland’s 15). With teammate John Stockton won two Olympic basketball gold medals.
In this year’s playoffs, Malone has averaged 29.4 points and 12.1 rebounds as the Jazz eliminated the Clippers and Lakers. His career averages are 25.9 points and 10.8 boards.
Despite a dozen years in perhaps the sport’s most grueling position, Malone has avoided serious injury, missing just four of 980 regular-season games.