SALT LAKE CITY — Karl Malone had a lot of fun when the NBA organized a Zoom video conference with former Jazz teammate John Stockton, Phoenix rival Charles Barkley, “The Admiral” David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and other legends of the NBA from the 1990s prior to the finale of ESPN’s 10-part documentary series “The Last Dance” about the final year of Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls.
He joked with Barkley about smoking cigars after the COVID-19 quarantine period ends (at least, we think he’s joking). Shaq joked about rumors he was making up about Robinson.
But when it got down to ending the call, Malone got serious.
"The Mailman" had something he needed to say, and he knew to whom to say it.
“Me and Stockton have been talking a lot recently. Our coach Sloan is not doing well,” Malone said. “I want you guys to pray for coach Sloan.
“It is a small fraternity. I want to tell each of you on this panel right now that if you guys ever need me, I’m there; drop of a hat. I’m just a phone call away. Y'all made me the player I am.”
Charles Barkley, David Robinson (@DavidtheAdmiral), Karl Malone (@TheDeliverer_32), John Stockton & Gary Payton (@GaryPayton_) closed out tonight's NBA Inside Stuff '90s Reunion by expressing gratitude for the other 1990s NBA legends that pushed them to be great. pic.twitter.com/4VCgoZgozt— NBA (@NBA) May 18, 2020
The NBA’s call, which was livestreamed on Twitter, and Malone’s call for prayers came at the end of the captivating documentary series by Jason Hehir that has riveted the nation, in part because it comes during a time without sports and in part because it chronicles what ranks among the highest eras of professional basketball history.
It also highlights the brotherhood that era of NBA players still holds, even as all of them are retired and many are entering the Hall of Fame.
“I want to say this: No. 1, I want to say to everybody here, you guys have brought out the best in us, in the Utah Jazz and myself,” Malone said. “I’m grateful for you guys; you made me the player I was. You pushed me. I had to have my A-game all the time.”
There’s nothing like the brotherhood, Malone’s iconic teammate added.
“Now that we’re older and mature, Jerry and I, David, Clyde (Drexler); there’s nothing like (these relationships) in my life,” Stockton said. “There’s no comparison.”
Jerry Sloan has been largely out of the public eye since his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia in 2016. He’s visited a few Jazz games and practices since then, but even those visits have become more infrequent as he’s battled the disease with his wife Tammy in this Riverton home.
"It's kind of a tough situation because you're getting away from something you've always loved to do," Sloan told KSL TV back in 2016.
His players, however, have been anything but silent over the legacy of their Hall of Fame coach. Sloan, who grew up in the farm country of Illinois before settling down in his later years in the Utah capitol that embraced him wholeheartedly, may be the greatest NBA coach to never win a title. He led the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances — the only consecutive trips in the franchise’s history to date — but was held off by Jordan and the Bulls both times.
As cries have risen from fans and Jazz players to build Sloan a statue near what is now Vivint Smart Home Arena, the humble coach has brushed it aside. He has told his player he doesn’t need the token of respect and remembrance.
But that doesn’t mean Sloan doesn’t deserve one.
“I’d give him one,” Bryon Russell said in 2019. “I really would. He made it possible in the 90s. My hat goes off to Jerry Sloan."