Ruston, Louisiana – On a cold Friday night in mid-January, Karl Malone tucked into a comfy corner chair at his Legends 32 cigar lounge, chilling out with a group of buddies. His son-in-law, a catching prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system, stopped in to say hello. Smoke filled the air, and a visitor was immediately offered a stogie. A worker came over, and he and Malone worked together to unwrap, cut, and get it lit properly.

The storytelling commenced and lasted long into the night. “Make sure you ask Karl about the Mardi Gras mascot on the vodka label. That is a good story,” one friend suggested.

Yes, it is, and it is below. They are all good stories, and Malone is just one of the guys in his comfort zone, in the place where he conducts business not far from his home in the woods. He is importing his cigar - Barrel Aged by Karl Malone from the Dominican Republic, distributing across the U.S. his E. Leon Jimenes Rum and distilling his Louisiana themed Trinity vodka in New Orleans, selling Toyotas, Fords, Chevrolets, Chrysler-Dodge-Jeeps and a wide assortment of powersports vehicles at 17 dealerships across Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas and Louisiana, managing large properties in Louisiana, thinking about his next great endeavor – all while planning his February trip back to Salt Lake City for NBA All-Star 2023.

He is pushing 60 but looks as trim and cut as ever. He sounds in disbelief as he notes that it has been 19 years since he played his final NBA game for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

The Legends 32 cigar lounge is cozy and chill, sitting across the street from Malone’s 5.11 by Karl Malone apparel store, Black Rifle coffee shop and resort style apartment complex on East Kentucky Avenue. Over the next two-and-a-half hours, he opened up to Legends of Basketball Magazine about several topics, becoming most animated while discussing how there is no excuse for any former NBA player to be economically distressed. He plans to speak up about it at All-Star Weekend emphatically. But he also plans to be one of the prominent faces of the league’s showcase event. If everything goes right, he may even break out the custom-made spooky Mardi Gras-inspired costume that resembles the Trinity Vodka bottle mascot. He does that from time to time.

First, though, he will be vocal. As everyone in the NBA family knows, Malone is off the grid by design. That’s just Karl. He’s a private guy who is never a spotlight-seeker. He doesn’t want attention in retirement but knows he will get it back in Salt Lake City.

“I am on a mission to take care of my retired brothers,” Malone expressed. “If someone has financial hardship, what can we do about it? I can’t execute the plan. That’s on the NBA, NBPA, and the Retired Players Association. But I am going to put it in play, and I am not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

When Karl Malone goes on a mission, that is just a little different. His business partner, Andy Madsen, noted that Malone employs over 700 people in his various business endeavors, and “they all call him Disneyland Dad. He’s still all about helping out the underdog.”

Much of Malone’s evidence is anecdotal, as many of his brethren know. These guys often call and text each other like one big retired NBA family. They often know things that the public, and even headquarters, are unaware of. Malone has heard too many stories about ex-players passing away without their families being able to cover funeral costs, and that is part of the genesis of this mission. He wants to be heard in his old home.

“I need substance in my life, but I do not want to be the guy running the narrative.” Malone said. ” In life, we are so trained and manipulated, but every now and then, you have to take a different road. What replaces your game and practice time when you retire? What are your goals and dreams? Things you want to do? I have had those since I was a kid playing on a basket made out of a bicycle tire. You want to fall back on the dreams you had then.”

Sitting with Legends of Basketball Magazine for this article represents a leap for Malone, whose business success has not been publicly chronicled. Like every former NBA player, he needed something to fill the time when his playing career ended. Despite having a hunting ranch on his Louisiana property and a summer home on the vast Kenai River in Alaska, where salmon are running by the thousands, it is clear that Malone has his hands on a ton of things. He still works out for at least one to two hours, five days a week, partly out of habit and mainly for the endorphin rush. 

“It is good for my mind. We all get caught up in physical appearance, but we cannot forget about the brain,” Malone said.

When his mother, Shirley Jackson, died suddenly in his final season with the Lakers, he tempered the emotional crush by writing a journal titled Through My Eyes. He envisions doing a podcast with that same title sometime later this year. 

“My stories aren’t smear and aren’t about ratings. It’s through my eyes and what I see, and it’s something near and dear,” Malone said.

He remains complex but is still as down-to-earth and genuine as he was when he was a player, and it does not take a human behavior specialist to discern that age 60 is a number that will bring a strong degree of self-reflection. 

He is a fan of the game but is not a regular viewer. However, he pays close enough attention to bring up the subject of the Sacramento Kings having made a brilliant trade by acquiring Domantas Sabonis from Indiana last season. 

“Why would you ever trade a player like that?” he asked. 

He keeps up, and he knows history. Can you name the five Hall of Fame centers that grew up within an hour’s drive of here? He asked before naming them: Willis Reed, Bob Pettit, Robert Parish, Bill Russell and Elvin Hayes. All three Holiday brothers, Aaron, Jrue and Justin, are from Ruston too. 

The degree to which the upcoming All-Star Weekend puts him back in the public spotlight remains to be seen. Still revered in Salt Lake City and throughout the state of Utah, he has an opportunity to build his brand, reconnect with old colleagues and seize the spotlight.

What TNT’s narrative is outside of the All-Star Saturday events and the Sunday night game is still up in the air. Furthermore, what the retired players will experience may be the polar opposite of what the viewing public is watching. And that is sort of the beauty/quandary of these NBA events. 

The unknown level of exposure that will be given to Malone’s former equally private running mate, John Stockton, is also an open question. Like Malone, Stockton is private. But he, too, could win a mayoral election in Salt Lake City if he announced a write-in campaign.

So what will people be talking about Monday? Nobody can predict that. But Malone has an opportunity to shape the public narrative if he so chooses. The guy is the perfect mixture of content and discontent. When you are pushing 60, you can think about push-ups or pushing daisies, and Malone is more of the former than the latter.

No matter which direction this one goes, the off-the-grid existence that Malone has had nationally since his final game in 2004 is about to change. And the guys who will know it first will be “The Mailman’s” fellow retirees.