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Mailman May Take All-Star Pass

If Karl Malone is serious about sitting out the All-Star game, he didn't let on Thursday as he made a hasty exit from the Delta Center after Utah's morning shootaround.

"Call up God. Why don't you ask God?" Malone said while striding toward the parking lot.

Malone reportedly is threatening to sit out the All-Star game, citing a recurring back injury. He strained his back during training camp, then hurt it again Tuesday against Seattle.

Another consideration is a tendon on the middle finger of his shooting hand, which he reinjured last week at Portland. In recent seasons, Malone has played with the finger in a splint.

"I think the rest would do him good," said Jazz trainer Mike Shimensky.

Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, said his client plans to play Utah's four remaining games before the All-Star break, starting Thursday against Milwaukee, but miss the Feb. 13 All-Star game in Oakland, Calif.

"He wants to take time off to heal his body during the All-Star break," Manley said by telephone from his Los Angeles office.

Malone typically is among the last players to leave the Jazz locker room, but he answers questions patiently. He was among the first to leave Thursday, whizzing past a barrage of reporters without saying a word.

Last week, Malone grumbled privately that he wouldn't play in Oakland unless he was named a starter in voting by fans. He wasn't; Malone and teammate John Stockton were chosen Monday by coaches as All-Star reserves.

NBA spokesman Chris Brienza said no healthy player has ever been selected for the All-Star roster but refused to report. He disputed reports that Malone could be fined or suspended if he doesn't show up in Oakland.

"It would be premature to speculate about what will or won't happen," Brienza said. "We plan to speak with Karl early next week and speak with the team to try to get a determination about his physical condition."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he didn't know if Malone is serious.

"I don't know if he's going to miss it or not," Sloan said. "He hasn't missed the All-Star game at this point. We're assuming something's going to happen before it happens."

However, Sloan said Malone should be excused if he feels there's a medical reason for taking a break.

"I don't have a problem with that," Sloan said. "A guy wants to take care of himself so he can get ready to play. Maybe the league should suspend guys who don't play because they have an ingrown hangnail."

It wasn't clear if Malone's decision would have an impact on whether Stockton, 37, will play in Oakland.

"No comment," Stockton said as he raced down a Delta Center tunnel. "I would rather talk about it after tonight's game.">

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