New York Karl Malone was bending over to tie his shoe in a hotel lobby Tuesday morning when a crazy man smacked him across the back with a newspaper.
At least Malone thought it was a weirdo -- until he looked up and saw the smiling face of Barry Bonds, the latest person to congratulate Malone on his move to the Los Angeles Lakers.
"This summer, my curiosity is peaking -- to make a change after 18 years and have that little kid feeling that I haven't had in a while," Malone said. "I realize my career is coming to an end, and now I'm like a sponge and just soaking it all in, I want to enjoy it as much as I can."
Malone already has put his oversized home in Utah on the market and has moved his family to Newport Beach, Calif., where he has yet to meet one of his newest neighbors -- Dennis Rodman. Of course, he was in the new home for only 12 hours before he left for Olympic team training camp.
Malone took one of the largest pay cuts in NBA history -- going from $19.25 million to $1.5 million -- to sign with the Lakers, where he hopes to team with Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and newly acquired Gary Payton to win the championship that has eluded him throughout his NBA career.
"After 18 years, I have something to prove that's going to motivate me," he said. "I've got to learn a whole different offense, a whole different defense. I've got to adjust my game to three Hall of Famers, and I accept the responsibility."
Malone said he was invigorated by all the changes in his life, buoyed by the comments of other athletes and everyday people. He said he and Bonds joked about being a 38-year-old target, and he also reached out Monday to NFL receiver Jerry Rice to ask how he adapted to switching teams after spending his first 16 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
"He told me I should feel like a kid in a candy store," Malone said.
Since arriving Sunday in New York to train with the U.S. Olympic qualifying team, Malone has received the thumbs-up sign from many of the people he has met on the street.
"I go places and it seems like more people are pulling for me now than ever because they realize what I'm doing. They realize the sacrifice I've made," he said.
"Other than me trying to win a championship, there's no other reason why I moved. People are sitting there saying: 'He sacrificed the scoring record, he sacrificed dollars. Dang, this IS about winning.'"
Malone needs to play at least two more seasons to have a shot at eclipsing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring record of 38,387 points. Malone is second with 36,374.
He expects to play about 34 minutes a night -- just as he did in Utah -- while spending 3-4 minutes each game as O'Neal's backup at center.
"My little boy, he's 8, he said, 'Are you going to play as much as you used to?' And I said, 'Well, yeah.' And he said, 'OK, I hope so, because you're with Kobe and Shaq and you might not play as much.' I told him, 'Daddy'll play enough,'" Malone said.
Malone had little to say about the current state of the Utah Jazz, who have $15 million in salary cap room that has proven difficult to spend. He also said he had not spoken with former teammate John Stockton since he signed with the Lakers.
Malone said he had conversed with O'Neal three or four times this summer, with O'Neal saying he'd like to come to Malone's ranch in Arkansas to take part in Malone's secretive off-season conditioning program.
"He told me he's going to do it. If he tells me he's going to do it, he'll do it," Malone said. "He said he's going to come back in shape. I don't have any doubts about that."
Historically, O'Neal has not always reported to training camp in shape -- preferring instead to work himself into condition over the course of the season with an eye toward being in peak form for the playoffs.
Malone expects this fall will be different.
"I predict he's going to come back on a mission," Malone said. "I remember the Shaq the first year they won it, he was running up and down the floor, involved in every play on offense and defense -- that's the one I think is going to come back. A guy that's been to the top and people still knock him, that doesn't sit really well."