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