Originally created 01/24/04

Injured Malone does not make return trip to Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Mailman's return visit will be delayed.

Karl Malone, on the injured list for the first time in his career, decided to skip the Los Angeles Lakers' first trip of the season to Utah.

"Dealing with the injury and dealing with the return - and not being able to play - was putting too much on. He'd rather recuperate and avoid a lot of the hoopla," said Dwight Manley, Malone's agent.

There had been great anticipation in Utah about Malone's return for Saturday night's game after an 18-year career with the Jazz. The next time the Lakers visit the Jazz is March 8.

"Frankly, I was really curious to see what fan reaction would be," Jazz owner Larry Miller said. "But we're not going to get to see until March."

Malone also missed the Lakers' first game against the Jazz - the Lakers won 94-92 in LA on Dec. 7 - due to a one-game suspension for elbowing.

He has missed 15 games with what the Lakers are is calling a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Manley said the injury is a torn MCL, not a sprain, and will likely keep Malone sidelined until after the All-Star break.

"It's a low tear, not a high tear, so it takes longer to heal," Manley said.

After traveling with the Lakers for road games in Memphis and Dallas, Malone decided early Friday to take a detour to his ranch in Arkansas rather than travel with the Lakers to Salt Lake City.

The Jazz had no plans for a special welcome for Malone. Utah fans have a long history of disliking the Lakers. Even Malone, who became one of the state's most popular public figures during his stay, would have probably faced a few boos.

"When the game starts, it doesn't make any difference - Karl Malone or whoever it is - I don't really care," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Our job still remains the same."

Miller and Malone feuded over several issues in the past, but the two always seemed to resolve their problems.

Even over the summer, after Malone announced he was signing for the veteran's exception of $1.5 million with the Lakers so he'd have a better chance of winning his first NBA title, Miller tearfully wished him well.

"Seeing him in a Lakers uniform, as I've seen him on TV, it's an awkward, out-of-kilter kind of feeling," Miller said. "To have him miss because of injury, that troubles me, because I don't know how bad that injury really is and I sure wouldn't want to see him have any limiting factor for whatever his career objectives are."


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