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Karl Malone best forward, at least for one day

SALT LAKE CITY — I'll be the first to admit I'm a gutless wonder. I concluded that back in ninth grade, when I skipped out on an after-school fistfight with Doyle Beck. It's not like we had a formal appointment. He simply said "Meet me after school in the parking lot" and threw in some predictions on what he was going to do to my profile.

Instead of meeting him, I climbed on the school bus, and away I went.

So, it's not surprising that on Karl Malone's Hall of Fame inauguration day, I would abstain from saying who is the greatest power forward of all time. That's wimpy, I know, although I suspect Malone's not all that worried about it. He said last month it was up to the experts to decide his place in history. He also said his chief rival, Tim Duncan, is one of his favorite players to watch.

I might actually venture an opinion if only I could figure out what position Duncan plays. Is it power forward, center or something in between? (By the way, can someone tell me what position Dirk Nowitzki plays?)

Malone and Duncan didn't play the same way, didn't do the same things. It's like comparing chocolates to cheesecake.

They're both great in their own inimitable way.

Therefore, I'm taking the cowardly way out.

I survived Doyle Beck, and I'm sure I'll survive this.

The only real reason this is an issue is because we Americans have an obsession with rankings. We can't just say they're special — we have to describe just how special. There are rankings for restaurants, movies, music, soft drinks, books, lawn mowers, celebrity makeovers and refrigerators. Ratings for cars, candy and vacation getaways. I understand that. I rank my shirts, ties, hikes and embarrassing moments.

Weird part is, there's no real way to quantify most rankings. Too many variables. Rating basketball players is like rating scenery. It all depends on the kind of scenery (beach, desert, plains, mountain, etc.) and the season.

I went through this same process last year when John Stockton was inducted. Many say he was history's greatest point guard. Even more say it was Magic Johnson. But since Johnson was all over the court, they didn't really play the same position.

I had to abstain on that one, too.

I like simple choices, like regular or Biggie size.

Malone's played a low-post power game for most of his career. Stockton dumped the ball to him, and he rolled to the rim, dragging all kinds of people with him. Duncan is a textbook bank-shot and footwork artist. Which is better? Depends on the teammates and the opponents, the coach and the player's health and longevity, how he was used in the offense and defense.

Malone played longer, averaged more points and shot a better percentage than Duncan so far. He is the second-leading scorer in NBA history. Duncan had better rebounding numbers, more blocks and the same assists average. He also won the same number of MVP awards (two) and got four more championship rings (at least) than Malone.

In head-to-head competition, Duncan averaged more points, rebounds and blocks, but fewer assists. However, just as Duncan was reaching his peak, Malone's career was waning, so maybe that's not a fair comparison.

So, I ask, do we have to rank EVERTHING?

I once had a journalist friend tell me a meal at a French Quarter restaurant was the finest of his life. Really? Is that true, or was he just starving when he ate? If so, a hot dog would have seemed exquisite. We were at the Super Bowl when he shared that with me. For some reason, it didn't occur to us to rate the Super Bowls, just meals.

I figure that on this momentous day for Malone, there's no need to spoil it by picking Duncan. Nor will I minimize Duncan by choosing Malone because it's his big day. I'll just say Malone deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and leave it at that.

If anyone wants a piece of me, I'll be on the bus.