They left the Jazz locker room together Monday night, same as they did for nearly two decades. Karl Malone and Larry H. Miller were talking again. Not that they actually ever stopped.
It's just that now they're talking to one another again.
Isn't talking and making up what they do best?
Asked if they had patched things up, Miller said, "I would say so," adding, "We're better. I can't complain."
Not all that much has changed since Malone played for the Jazz.
Malone and Miller still feud and make up, feud and make up. Both still wear their feelings on their sleeves. And Malone still polarizes fans. Nineteen years after he first set eyes on Salt Lake City, he continues to play to mixed reviews. Is he one of the greatest players ever? Is he largely responsible for the Jazz's rise to prominence? Is he both loved and hated in Utah?
Yes to all of the above.
That is likely where he will remain forever.
The backdrop to Monday's game, of course, was the feud. Malone and the Jazz had been at odds ever since a January skit in which the team mascot parodied Malone's plight in L.A., then referred to teammate Kobe Bryant's legal woes. That sparked a typically convoluted scenario. On one hand, the Jazz went overboard, mocking Bryant's legal woes. It was a curious decision on the Jazz's part, considering Malone's notoriously thin skin. Malone went on to call Jazz management cowardly and classless.
Equally curious, though, was Malone's defense of a teammate he has known only months, and who once waved off Malone's screen at an All-Star Game.
The timing of the disagreement couldn't have been worse. The Jazz had only recently commissioned the building of a statue of Malone and John Stockton outside the Delta Center. But Malone has yet to show up to be measured for the statue. In turn, Miller said he could live without Malone, or his statue in Utah. That was no idle threat. Just ask former Jazz great, Adrian Dantley, who had differences with Miller, and whose number still hasn't been retired.
Boys, BOYS! Stop the fighting this minute, or you're both grounded!
By Monday morning's shoot-around, though, Malone appeared reflective. Asked if he cared about the crowd reaction to come, he said, "Why should I? I'm not here anymore, so they have the right to do what they want to."
And so they did. Fans held up signs, Monday night, that ranged from "Karl come back!" to "Karl who?" to "Benedict Malone."
Malone arrived for the Jazz-Lakers game in a cab. He paid the fare and walked down the ramp, through the door he used hundreds of times before. Coincidentally, right behind him was Miller, arriving in his car.
But the two didn't speak. Malone walked past, as Miller talked inside his car on a cell phone.
On the injured list and dressed in street clothes, Malone delayed entering the arena until after introductions. When he did walk out, he was met with a loud mixture of boos and cheers. He huddled with the team, then sat on the end of the bench next to his old Jazz teammate Bryon Russell.
It didn't take long — one minute and eight seconds, to be exact — before one fan was removed from the arena for standing in the aisles and shouting insults at Malone. Malone remained stoic and unsmiling.
Meanwhile, the intrigue continued. Though announcer Dan Roberts was handed a welcoming introduction to read over the loudspeaker system, it never happened. Malone told Jazz officials he'd prefer no introduction.
"I thought they might announce something," said Miller. "But they didn't say anything."
Almost directly across the court, Miller sat nearly as stoically as Malone. They had entered the arena from opposite portals, and stayed that way until after the game. But afterward Malone sought Miller in the Jazz locker room.
"It's cool," said team president Dennis Haslam. "A luuuuuv fest."
So in the end, they made up again. Or at least talked. Don't they always? They've been practicing this for 18 seasons.
Is the feuding and fighting done for good? Never.