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Sometimes, Mailman simply gets a tad tired

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He scored 30 points the other night. Looked decent doing it. And the Jazz beat Houston, marking their seventh victory in the last eight games.

Jazz star Karl Malone should be strolling down Easy Avenue, right?

Well, truth be told, he's not. Truth be told, he's in a self-described mental funk.

Malone doesn't expect anyone's sympathy — isn't even looking for it, really. But when someone asked him after Utah's Thursday win over the Rockets if he was "having fun," the Mailman suggested that, these days, the life and times of Karl Malone aren't all they're cracked up to be.

On Friday, he shared why.

"You always see people say . . . 'I would trade with you in a minute.' And I don't know if I agree with that," Malone said. "You know, I'm not complaining about being Karl Malone. But everybody thinks it ought to be fun every day for me. And, you know, it's not — because, first and foremost, of the pressure I put on me to be who I am.

"It takes a whole lot of things to make me, I think, the player I am. And sometimes it just wears on you," the 38-year-old, 17-season Jazz vet added. "Sometimes your teammates want to be away from you, and sometimes you want to be away from them and the coaches. And that's what I'm saying.

"It is (what) it is being Karl Malone for 17 straight years, and, you know, sometimes it's not fun. That's what I was saying. And there's stretches during the year where it's not fun. You know, you score 30, and you win, but you don't have time to enjoy it enough."

One might think Malone has 17.4-million reasons to enjoy himself — one for every buck he will make to simply shoot hoops this season. But dollars, difficult as it may be to understand for those who don't have lots of them, don't tell the whole story.

"It's not where it's a big deal. It's just that every single day of being Karl Malone, people say, 'Well, oh, you're getting paid enough money,' " Malone said. "But it's not all about that. It's not about how much they pay you to be happy."

What is it then?

The 19-16 Jazz, who play host to Memphis tonight, are back to winning ways after a rocky 6-11 start. Their usual Gibraltar has averaged 22.6 points and 10.6 rebounds during this latest eight-game span. And trade talk that hounded Malone earlier this season has subsided, as it should, since there are no plans on the Jazz's behalf to deal the NBA's No. 2 all-time scorer.

So what could it possibly be that has Malone so down?

Part is basketball-related frustrations.

That was evidenced clearly Thursday in front of a Delta Center audience that watched Malone, late in the game against Houston, turn and motion 'just calm down' to screaming, foot-stomping Jerry Sloan, the longtime Jazz coach whom, even in the toughest of times, Malone truly does respect.

"It's all the little things that wear on you," Malone said, "more than going and playing the games. . . . It's not that I feel I'm getting bigger than the game. It's just there's a lot of little things that I don't like right now, and I guess I'll just deal with it."

His own well-sculpted but banged-up body factors in, too.

"I've been fighting some injuries that, in the past, have just kind of subsided and went away. But, now, I think they're just kind of there," said Malone, who in recent seasons has dealt with a bothersome lower back. "It's frustrating, but I'll deal with them."

More than all that, though, it's personal issues that seem to be sinking Malone's fun-quotient.

"There's no substitution for winning," he said. "But being Karl Malone, with four brothers and four sisters, and 31 nieces and nephews, and six kids of your own, and . . . you're Santa Claus all the time.

"That's the thing about a lot of people that don't know me: They just see the athlete, and think he should be happy all the time," Malone continued. "But imagine when your nephew don't make good grades in high school — who they call? You know? Imagine if you're having a brother with some personal problems — who they call? Imagine if your mom's not feeling well — who they call?"

Occasionally, Malone admitted, "You want to hang up the phone up and say 'Don't . . . call me no more.' " Just like anyone, basically. But he doesn't, because he understands "there's a reason why I was put in this position."

Seventeen seasons of strapping so much onto his shoulders, then, do seem to be gaining some ground in the race to the finish.

Malone, in many ways, is a victim of his own success.

The kicker, though, is that basketball isn't the perpetrator. Rather, Malone said, basketball "is kind of my sanctuary." When the funk acts like the flu, just sort of dragging you down, basketball is his best medicine.

Sometimes, it works. Other times, even a double-dose doesn't do the job.

"I think I (usually) go through some kind of phase (like this)," Malone said. "But, for some reason, I'm having a little bit harder time now shaking it.

"But when I play, and I hear the fans, it seems like they make it OK. For a while. But, I don't know. You know how when you're a rubber band, and you're wound so tight that you're kind of on edge a little? That's how I am right now, and it's hard, because you don't want to hurt some people that are close to you. And then the people that are not close to you — you don't want to hurt them, and they take it the wrong way. But I'll deal with it.

"It's just like being Santa Claus for 60 people, all the time. Then, when you walk on the floor, you're somebody for 20,000. But I think that's what makes me who I am. So it's not a negative, and I'll turn (it into) a positive. Sometimes I need some negative energy to turn things positive, and that's how I've been."

At times like these, Malone admits the retirement question — he has two more seasons left on his current deal, and would have to play longer than that to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time scoring leader — weighs on his mind.

"I have my days, yeah. But," he said, dismissing the issue, "I'm gonna be all right."

Really, Malone vows, he will be.

"I'll be fine," he said. "I go through these stages all the time, and I'll be fine. I'm sure."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com