Karl Malone has redefined the notion of growing old gracefully. The result has not been pretty. It's a shame a 13-year romance between the NBA's premier power forward, his boss, teammates and frenetic Utah fans has turned sour at this juncture. But divorce appears imminent.

Wednesday's ultimatum - "Trade me or else!" - comes on the heels of what Malone calls "posturing and jabbering back and forth" between him and, well, we're not sure who else. The yakking has come almost exclusively from the Mailman, including over the airwaves. Give a guy a radio show and too much free time, and this is where things end up.Malone's latest perceived slight came when KALL Radio refused to pay $500 per hour to carry his radio show, which originates in Los Angeles at XTRA (1150 AM). The program had originally been offered to KALL free, apparently at Malone's insistence, so his voice and views could be heard locally. Since XTRA and KALL are both owned by Jacor Communications, it appeared an ideal situation. Three weeks into it, Malone's agent Dwight Manley came calling for the additional payment and expressed shock when KALL didn't ante up. The next day, Malone delivered his ultimatum.

The problem is, Malone is hearing whispers about "disrespect" - from his agent and himself - that, until recently, did not exist.

For 13 seasons, the Mailman delivered through rain or shine. Frenetic Jazz fans of all ages praised his name and respected - admired - his work ethic, citizenship and talent. If he stumbled in the clutch on occasion, it was never for lack of effort. He and John Stockton became forever linked as a dynamic duo that could be counted on night in and night out.

The last two years, they and a strong supporting cast carried the Jazz to the brink of world championships. They were only thwarted by a No. 23 with an "S" on his chest. Karl Malone has been good for Utah, and the Jazz organization and fans have been good for the Mailman. He spearheaded charitable efforts, fought for the underdog, played for less than market value at his choosing, and rapped selfish "young knuckleheads" like the Lakers' Kobe Bryant for their lack of team play.

And now he's become one - a typical NBA prima donna who's enshrined in self, and who, in the twilight of his career, is conceding to the pressures of his peers. "Show me the money" has become his calling card. He's become an L.A. type of guy, and a parting of the ways appears inevitable.

It's sad that 13 memorable years have come down to this. But to anyone still paying attention, that's life in the NBA.

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