METAIRIE, La. — This weekend will be all about basketball, as the Final Four in the NCAA tournament will play out on WWL-TV.
In the spirit of the game, Eyewitness News anchor and life-long hoops fan Thanh Truong recently sat down for an exclusive interview with a basketball legend: Karl Malone, a Louisiana native who earned a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Naturally, Thanh thought they'd talk just about basketball, but as you'll see, Malone opened up about much more.
Most interviews don't start this way
"I got to say, you're not what I expected," Thanh said.
"Here, do this," Malone said, motioning to his interviewer to wipe his eyes.
It's not every day a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame tells you to wipe some sleep out of your eye. But this is the part of Karl Malone few of us get to see, and Thanh found out there's a lot we don't know about the player who was known as 'The Mailman.'
Karl: People say my nickname is the Mailman, but my first nickname... I got two of them. One of them was 'Boo Boo.'
Thanh: Boo Boo Malone?
Karl: Yeah, and if you make fun of that I'm gonna tell you my story. I didn't think about a bathroom when I had to boo-boo, that's where that one came from.
Thanh: Now, we're really getting to know you.
Karl: And my grandfather called me 'Noony.'
Karl: That's what he called me.
Thanh: Well, did you boo boo during noon? Is that how you got the name?
Karl: No. I got that because my grandfather was a moonshiner, and when he was making runs he would give little bottle caps and I would be out to noon. So now, you know. You know, I've never told that story.
Thanh: We might tell that to other people now.
Malone Grew up in Summerfield, Louisiana. When he was a young boy, his father died from suicide, and his mother had to raise him and his other siblings on her own.
Karl: My mom is the only person that every dreamed that I had as a little boy, not my siblings, not my friends, not my teachers...anything that other people would laugh at, she would always say, I know you will."
Karl: "People don't realize this, I didn't want to be an athlete. I was the little runt of the family. And I got bullied when I was a little boy."
Karl: "As I got to the 9th grade, the only branch of the military that flew the Harrier jet was the Marines. That was the jet that hovered, went out, came back landed, they covered up. That's why if you pan the store you look at all the logos, the marine logo is in the middle. So I wanted to fly a Harrier jet, my mom was the only one person, I used to tell her when I become a captain, I will come back, I will buzz our little country store and I will land my jet in that field and come back over and see you. And my mom told me, I know you will."
Karl: "Then I started playing basketball, I said, 'mom, I want to be one of the best. But if I'm not the best, no one will ever outwork me.'"
Malone brought that work ethic to Louisiana Tech, where he's still a legend, Then to the Utah Jazz, and eventually the Los Angeles Lakers. In almost 20 years in the NBA, he made two finals appearances, was a member of the 1992 Dream Team and became the second all-time leading scorer, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Babbar. But for all the great athletes he's encountered in his life, he only wanted to meet one.
Karl: That guy happened to be Muhammad Ali by the way. And it was just so surreal, I said then, I said if the most recognizable man, not just sports, but his beliefs, right? If you do not stand for something, you'll fall for anything. We could debate him not going, we can debate all of that. But the message was deeper than that...and then I met him. My second year, I met him.
Karl: I remember how he was with everybody and just imagine, he walked through the door
Thanh: Where was this though?
Karl: The MGM in Vegas, he walked through the door and my buddy, whose name is Gene Kilroy, was his manager. And he says, 'hey big guy, I got somebody that wants to meet you.' He walked through the door and I'm looking at him. So I sit up in the corner and I'm watching him, and that's how he made everybody feel, like you're the only person in that room."
Malone took that lesson to heart. When he's speaking with people, he focuses just on the person in front of him. Celebrity status doesn't mean much to him.
Karl: We don't have to act like that. It always amazes me with celebrities, If you laugh…interview is over. So flip phone, let me tell you why. Everybody now, social media, they don't want to be bothered, celebrities, but they get on their phone, they tell you where they're going, and when they get there, they don't want to be bothered with you, but they broadcast: I'm going to the mall with my buddies. And they pull up with a limo... Everybody look at a limo. Do you know how many times I've taken a cab, and by the time they realize... But if you show up in a limo, and you broadcast everywhere you go... That's what I always tell my family, I don't care what you post after we go on a trip, but when we're there, don't post where I'm at.
Thanh: Enjoy the moment.
Karl: Enjoy the moment.
Part two of Thanh's talk with Karl will air on The Eyewitness News on Monday.