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Tickets to watch `underpaid' Malone are overpriced

I understand Karl Malone is feeling neglected, unappreciated, disrespected. I can identify with that. Somebody in his league makes more money than he does. In fact, 32 guys - most of whom are probably not as talented and don't work as hard - make more money than he does. I can identify with that, too.

For a lot of years, being a woman guaranteed that a lot of people - men - who weren't as talented and didn't work as hard made more money than I did. Life often isn't fair.Karl is extremely valuable to Utah. And since in this world money is how we measure a person's worth, Karl should make more than those around the league who aren't as valuable.

But, principles aside, it's still a matter of degree. Karl makes around $5 million a year; Michael Jordan, who was NOT Most Valuable Player last year, makes somewhere around $34 million (not counting endorsements on either paycheck). Fair? Probably not, but this is where my empathy and sense of fairness begin to falter a bit. These are numbers I cannot identify with.

It's all relative, I'm told. It's supply and demand. It's the entertainment industry. Well, I guess Karl is the supply side and I am part of the demand. I've been a Jazz season ticket holder for lo these many years, part of that crowd recognized around the league for cheering louder and supporting our guys more consistently than most any other group of fans in the country.

The difference with my cheering these days is that it's now done at home, in front of the TV, not in the Delta Center. I still have my tickets, but I can no longer afford to attend a game. I sell them to a group of even more dedicated (and well-heeled) fans but retain formal ownership, just in case some day I'll get a big enough raise to be able to spend a hundred bucks to watch Karl do what he does so well - in person.

I was hoping after last year's inspirational Jazz performance that maybe I could somehow justify the cost of a game or two, but when the price of my tickets went up about 15 percent, that fantasy died a quick death. A nice letter from the Jazz office that accompanied the bill explained the increase is due to the "enormous expense of maintaining a world-class team."

That's you, Karl. You and your buddies. The enormous expense.

I make a reasonable salary. What of all the Utahns, including a very large number of children - Karl's biggest fans - who will NEVER be able to watch a Jazz game, except on the tube? Even in Utah, where people work hard for lower wages than their counterparts in other areas of the country, basketball is a rich person's sport.

Karl's financial inequities are relative. He compares his paycheck with those of people who make more than the gross national products of many nations. But, you know what? Five million ain't bad. In a more practical comparison, most Utahns don't have a relative wealthy enough to bequeath the money required for season tickets.

I'm not naive. I know Chicago fans have it even worse than we do. Most Chicagoans love Michael Jordan, but very few have actually seen him play. That will soon be the situation in Salt Lake City, and it's a shame.

I can't help but believe Karl Malone is a lucky man. He inherited some mighty rare and valuable genes. He had a mother who taught him the value of working to make the most of those genes. He lives in a beautiful state where his picture hangs in the bedrooms of probably 80 percent of the kids. Even though most will never see him play.

His fans are more than happy to thumb their noses at Chicago fans who believe - along with the rest of the world - that Michael Jordan is not only the Most Valuable Player in the league but also in the world and that he has been just that for most of his career. We stack Karl up against Jordan any day, because we've believed he's not only a great basketball player but also a great guy - our guy.

But now that he's threatening to go play somewhere else - somewhere where he'll be more appreciated - I'm beginning to doubt that assessment.

Sure, it's a business. Sure, you get the most money you possibly can. And complaining and threatening are probably just part of the posturing necessary to coerce even bigger bucks. But it's unattractive coming from Karl Malone - our guy, our hero, who, like most Utahns, is underpaid but still puts in a darn good day's work.

Nothing Karl does will change the fact that players' demands for ever more money are driving the price of admission way beyond the reach of ordinary people. Michael Jordan, in a Newsweek magazine interview, said he is "always pro-player when it comes to money." Is Kevin Garnett entitled to $22 million? Jordan said, "I think they're paying him for his potential. If he lives up to it, great. If he doesn't, well, I still support him, because they wouldn't give it to him if they couldn't afford it."

Maybe the Jazz can afford to pay Karl $20 million a year or more. Maybe they can't. I don't know. All I know is I sure wish I could afford to sit in "my" seats at the Delta Center and watch Karl play.

Deseret News features editor Marilyn Karras may be reached by e-mail at karras@desnews.com