MEMPHIS — On occasion over the past 18 seasons, stress has tested the strength of the relationship between Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and Jazz star Karl Malone.
Time and again, the bond has held.
Oh, it may bend now and then. But when you're as close as those two are, it's silly to permit the pressures of winning and losing to destroy what it has taken nearly two decades to build.
So suggest Malone and Sloan, who on Thursday morning apparently were at wit's end with each other, the strain of a four-game losing streak beating down both.
By Friday night, though, the 13-12 Jazz had ended their skid, beating the NBA-leading Dallas Mavericks 93-81 and letting bygones be bygones.
"It's one of those things where you get a win," Malone said, "and it makes both of us feel a little better."
What had the two feeling so bad about each other included comments made early Thursday by Malone, who, speaking in rather general terms, said he was tired of hearing so much about such negative things as the Jazz's turnover problems and losing streak.
Sloan — who often this season has made turnovers a topic of his public postgame remarks, and did so again after Utah committed 24 miscues in a loss to Orlando — evidently challenged his players at practice to tell him to his face if someone had a problem with him.
"I don't like confrontation — especially with guys you go to war with," Malone said. "But, sometimes things happen."
Precisely what happened is uncertain, as media members generally are banned from watching the Jazz's regular-season home practice sessions.
But, suffice it to say, Malone and Sloan may have 'addressed some issues.'
"We've been into this before," said Sloan, whose team is in Memphis today to take on the 8-20 Grizzlies. "This is not the first time that Karl and I have gone at each other — and it won't be the last, as long as I'm here, as long as he's here. Because he's hard-headed, and I'm hard-headed.
"But one thing about him, (and) that's what I've always appreciated: He's hung in there. We've had our head-knocks, and we get sideways, I guess you might say, with each other. (But) he always fights back — and that's the character you'd like to see in anybody. And I'm gonna do the same thing."
Malone, who has spent his entire NBA career with the Jazz, and Sloan, who moved from Frank Layden's assistant to head coach of the Jazz in 1988, both compare their long-lasting relationship to that of a committed couple.
Said Sloan: "We've been together 18 years. . . . Even in a marriage, that's a long time."
"My respect for Coach Sloan hasn't wavered," Malone said.
"But to sit here and tell Coach we're never going to have a disagreement, I'd be lying to you," he added. "But he's the coach, and I'm the player, and sometimes you get into a little argument. Like you do with your wife."
What causes this not-so-odd couple's periodic spats, however, has nothing to do with balancing the checkbook, folding laundry and taking out the garbage.
It most often centers around winning, or lack thereof.
"I've butted heads with guys for as long as I've been in this business. And sometimes it's not a fun thing to do, because . . . sometimes some feelings get hurt," Sloan said. "But, you know . . . I've only got one interest, and that's winning. And that's what he's always had."
"No matter what happens," Malone added, "we still want the same thing."