By Jefferson W. Boswell
Special to Salt City Hoops
Many NBA players engage in a ritual when they step up to the charity stripe. Jason Kidd, for example, used to blow a kiss to his wife and kids (since a nasty divorce, his routine has obviously changed a little). We all remember Jeff Hornacek wiping the side of his face – his own tribute to his family. But then there was the Mailman. He would dribble the ball a couple times, spin it in his hands, and then mutter a few words. With a gentle push and a mild arc, the cowhide globe would hit home – at career rate of just under 75%, (to amalgamate Hot Rod and David Locke). No one really knew what he was saying up there….except for my Grandma.
In the late 1990’s, the Mailman was at the peak of his career. Two MVP awards, two NBA finals appearances, All-NBA, All-Defensive, All- Everything. My Grandma, on the other hand, was in the twilight of her life. She had been a widow for a decade. Although she could hardly see, she would park herself in her recliner, only feet away from her big screen television, and cheer for the Jazz with all of her might. Unlike her beloved Jazz, there was no off-season for her to take a vacation from the countless doctor’s visits and endless prescriptions.
As so often happens for those fortunate to live as long as she did, she lost her balance, fell, and broke her hip. After surgery and a long recovery, she was instructed to undergo physical therapy. During a particularly brutal session of physical therapy, she was resting in her wheelchair – when in walks none other than the Mailman – Karl Malone in the flesh. Just seeing him caused her heart to skip a beat (dangerous for a woman in her 80s).
The therapist said, “Come meet one of your biggest fans, Karl.”
I can almost see my Grandma nearly fall out of her wheelchair and melt like a Popsicle. After introductions and exchanging pleasantries, my Grandma, Alene Boswell, asked the question that had captivated Utah for a decade.
“Karl, what exactly do you say when you are up there taking your foul shots?”
With a smile and a wink, he said, “I’m talking to you up there, Alene. I say, ‘Come on now, Alene, don’t let me down.'”
Even though her health deteriorated and she eventually lost most of her memories, that story was never far from her lips. She passed away on Mother’s Day in 2000 (and never had to see her beloved Mailman in a Lakers jersey).
Karl Malone recently told KSL’s Rod Zundel, when asked if he’d have changed anything in his career, that he wished he would have “done more in the community.” From my perspective, you did just fine, Karl. Congratulations on entering the Basketball Hall of Fame this week. You’ve been in the humanity Hall of Fame for a while now.
Jefferson Boswell will be a regular contributor to Salt City Hoops. He can be reached at jeffersonboz [at ] gmail [dot] com