Tears welled up in Karl Malone's eyes after one of the biggest victories he's ever had in his 11-year career with the Utah Jazz.
They were not tears of joy, nor was Malone much in the mood to celebrate Thursday night after the Jazz beat the Seattle SuperSonics 118-83 to force a deciding seventh game in the Western Conference finals.Malone learned before the game that 13-year-old Danny Ewing of North Salt Lake, whom he befriended more than a year ago, had entered the terminal stage in his fight with leukemia. He may have as little as two weeks left to live.
"I just want to say, `Danny, this is for you,' " Malone said over the public address system.
Ewing, wearing a Jazz cap and T-shirt, got a big hug and a Malone's game jersey outside the locker room, then sat in his wheelchair in the front row as Malone began his post game news conference.
"It's a sort of bittersweet win because you have people who touch your life throughout this," Malone said. "All of a sudden you find out certain things, and I have a friend who's not doing too well right now, so this win is for him."
He paused to clear his throat, his eyes glassing over as the room full of reporters fell silent. Malone had not spoken publicly before about his friendship with a child 19 years his junior, and the sudden revelation about matters more important than basketball brought on an unfamiliar mood.
"Excuse me for not showing any emotion, but this sort of makes me put life in perspective," Malone said. "I realize what I do is just a game, but I don't know how important it is when you find out something like this."
Later, Ewing was wheeled into the Jazz locker room. All the players signed his game program, chatted with him and gave him words of encouragement.
Ewing's mother said the boy was so excited by the victory and by Malone's warm words that he couldn't get to sleep after the game.
"Karl's my buddy," Ewing said. "I met him in the hospital, and I went to his birthday party.
"He's a great player. He's a lot better role model than most famous people. He's been a good friend. He's helped brighten my life."