The way Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz sees his NBA MVP award, it's strictly a lend-lease affair from four-time winner Michael Jordan.

"I thank Michael for letting me borrow it for one year," Malone joked Sunday after winning the second closest MVP vote since the media balloting began in 1981.Malone's victory margin was 29 points. He received 986 points and 63 first-place votes while the Chicago Bulls star got 957 points and 52 first-place ballots from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The only closer vote came in 1990 when Magic Johnson beat Charles Barkley by 22 points.

He may be borrowing the MVP award but Malone also earned it, carrying the Jazz into the Western Conference finals against Houston that begin Monday night.

He averaged 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists, leading Utah to the best record in the conference at 64-18. He was second in scoring, sixth in field goal percentage (.550) and 11th in rebounding.

"To have this trophy after 12 years, really and truly I never thought I'd have the opportunity," Malone said. "... We won 64 games and I think they looked a lot at that, too."

"He's never stopped doing the things we asked him to do," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Malone. "As great as he's become, it's due to hard work. Work has never been something he's shied away from."

A 12-year veteran, Malone went over 2,000 points for an NBA record 10th consecutive season and moved ahead of Jerry West into 10th place on the career scoring list. He is one of just five players who have 25,000 points and 10,000 rebounds. The others are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes.

"He's played great all year and he came into this year with the attitude that we're going to take that next step," Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek said. "Karl was definitely the leader, the one who's carried us."

Malone, 33, is the oldest player to capture the MVP since the NBA first awarded the honor in 1956. He said he thought about the award and his personal statistics early in his career, but later took the advice of his mother, Shirley Turner, that "`When you stop thinking about it, it will happen.' And the one year I've had the most fun I've ever had ... all of a sudden I win the award," he said.

Twenty players had at least one vote from the 115 panel members. Voters listed five players in order of preference and points were awarded on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis.

Detroit's Grant Hill was third with 376 points followed by Miami's Tim Hardaway (238), Charlotte's Glen Rice (134) and Seattle's Gary Payton (105).

Malone and Jordan were the only players named on all ballots. Besides his 63 firsts, Malone received 48 seconds and four thirds. Jordan had 61 seconds and two thirds to go with his 52 firsts.

Drafted out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, Malone quickly proved he belonged in the NBA with his bruising play. Still, when he decided he needed more power in the post, he embarked on a grueling weightlifting regimen that has stacked 256 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-9 frame.

He also added to his offensive arsenal. Coming early and staying late at practice, he developed fadeaway and perimeter jump shots while improving his once-horrid foul shooting.

Never averaging less than 25 points a game after his rookie season, Malone became the quintessential power forward.

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He has led Utah to 12 of its 14-straight playoff appearances (a string second only to Portland's 15), and with teammate John Stockton won two Olympic gold medals.

In this year's playoffs, in which the Jazz eliminated the Clippers and Lakers, Malone has averaged 29.4 points and 12.1 rebounds. His career averages are 25.9 points and 10.8 boards.

Approaching his 34th birthday in July, Malone remains an iron man. In 980 regular-season games, he has missed just four. And his performance seems to get only better.

"This year has been special to me, but I'm not finished yet," Malone said. "And I have this good feeling, if we keep our nose to the grindstone."

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