Malone Feels at Home During Return to Utah

Malone Feels at Home During Return to Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Karl Malone felt right at home being back in Utah, although technically he was a visitor.

Dressing in the visitor's locker room and wearing the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers didn't change much for Malone, back in the city he adopted as his home for so long.

"Been home for 18 years," he said.

Malone Feels at Home During Return to Utah

Malone, out since December with a torn knee ligament, participated in the Lakers' shootaround Monday morning, hours before his Los Angeles teammates were to play the only other team Malone has played for in his 19 NBA seasons.

Still on the injured list with a bad knee, he was not expected to be activated for the game.

And despite a recent public feud with the Jazz, Malone said he was happy to be back.

"I love my new life. That's what I'm saying. That's why I don't know what all the fuss is about," he said. "I'm happy. The Jazz are happy. They're winning. I keep up with them. Why can't both sides be happy and get along?"

This is the same Malone who at the end of January said he would never forgive the Jazz and accused the team of lacking class because of a skit that poked fun at Malone and Laker teammate Kobe Bryant.

Malone didn't make the trip, choosing to avoid the hoopla surrounding his first trip back to Salt Lake City. But he heard about the skit and was livid.

Utah's front office apologized to Malone and the Lakers, but last weekend Jazz owner Larry Miller sounded off about Malone's initial reaction with several harsh comments.

Malone, who has a long history of differences with Miller, had a much more mellow outlook on Monday.

"What do you guys want me to say? That's old news, man. I'm somewhere else. My life is good. Their life is good," he said. "You guys keep beating things to death and it's for no reason. I've got too many positive memories for 18 years."

Malone joined the Lakers last summer as a free agent, saying it was best both he and the Jazz move on. Malone wanted to win a championship, which he came just short of doing with the Jazz in 1997 and '98, and the Jazz were trying to rebuild with players younger than Malone and John Stockton, who was with the team 19 years before retiring last summer.

Malone expected mixed feelings from Jazz fans.

"I'm with the Lakers. That's where I play," Malone said. "You can't control what people do or say. I said I was going to be here and I'm here. I stay true to my word."

Malone had hoped to return before or during Monday's game and even hinted that "anything's possible," but later said he was still not quite up for returning.

And with Kobe Bryant out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson did not want to take any chances with Malone aggravating the knee by rushing back just to play in Utah.

Having Malone and Bryant healthy for the playoffs next month is much more important to the Lakers.

"It's very close. Karl's ready to play 5 minutes or 6 minutes or so," Jackson said. "He hasn't been able to play in a full-court situation yet, so that's just not right for him to have to come back at this time and try to do it in an NBA game when he hasn't even done it in a practice situation."

This is the first time in his career Malone has been on the injured list. He said it was ironic that after nearly two decades of banging inside and becoming the NBA's second all-time leading scorer, he hurt the knee Dec. 22 against Phoenix while shooting an outside jump shot.

And being patient while rehabilitating the knee has also been a new experience for Malone, who had missed only 11 career games before the injury.

"I can't afford a setback right now. So if I miss another week or four or five days, so be it. But if it's another day or night, I look forward to that too," Malone said. "It's not weeks anymore. It's hours, days. It's right there."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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