The 2004 Los Angeles Lakers will go down in infamy as one of the most disappointing teams in NBA history.
Despite assembling a collection of Hall of Famers like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton on one roster, they failed to win a title together.
One particularly unfortunate incident that occurred that year took place between Malone and Kobe’s wife, Vanessa.
During a Nov. 23, 2004 matchup between the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, Malone acted in a way that made Vanessa feel very uncomfortable.
“Karl and his son were at the game sitting in the front row,” Rob Pelinka — Kobe’s former agent and current Lakers team president – said per ESPN. “Vanessa was on the cell phone talking to Karl’s wife, Kay, and Vanessa said that her son looked bored. Kay told her to call Karl to have her son join her in her seats. Kay gave Vanessa Karl’s cell number and she called him.
“When she called, Karl’s response was, ‘Why don’t you come over here and sit next to me and give me a big hug?’ Vanessa said, ‘Why? For what?’ And Karl replied, ‘If you do that it will be on the cover of every magazine in the country.’
“Vanessa didn’t know what to say because this was the first time she had ever spoken to Malone without Kobe or Kay being around. Karl continued. ‘Do you like me?’ Malone asked her, to which Vanessa said, ‘As my friend, Kay’s husband,’
“From there Malone asked Vanessa if she could keep a secret, and that he would like to tell her something. At which point Vanessa told him she was a married woman and he was a married man who was old enough to be her father. To which Malone replied, ‘Oh, like your daddy?’ At that point she told me she ended the conversation.”
At some point, Malone’s son apparently came to go sit with Vanessa. Later, when she returned him to his dad, things got even more uncomfortable.
“When the game ended, Vanessa walked Malone’s son back to Karl,” Pelinka continued.
“She told me that she asked Malone why he was wearing that [cowboy] hat. His response was, ‘I’m hunting for young Mexican girls.’ At which point Vanessa just walked away.”
When Vanessa relayed what transpired to Kobe, he decided to call Malone himself and figure out what really happened.
“Kobe told me that Karl just listened and didn’t deny any of it. Kobe said Karl’s only reply was, ‘You know me, man.’ To which Kobe told him, ‘That’s right, I do know you — and stay away from my wife,'” said Pelinka.
“The next day, with all four of them on the phone, Karl denied it. At that point the Bryants knew that there was nothing left to talk about since they knew Karl wasn’t telling the truth. Vanessa told me that she told Kay that she [Vanessa] wanted her [Kay] to know ‘just exactly what your husband [Karl] did, and you do what you want with the information.'”
Malone obviously has something of a checkered past:
Thoughts on the #LastDance ?
Karl Malone is a REALLY bad person.
REAL BAD. pic.twitter.com/iBCoOm7jgf
— andy (@AndyGetBuckets) May 4, 2020
This didn’t help his reputation any.
For what it is worth, after Kobe’s passing, Malone did send out this tweet:
I am at a loss for words..Kobe and Gianna you will never be forgotten. What a blessing to see your impact you have had in this world, Kobe. Prayers for the Bryant family. Rest In Peace, little brother and Gigi.. pic.twitter.com/x6EkJaARDD
— Karl Malone (@TheDeliverer_32) January 26, 2020
Based on that, it is impossible to know the state of their relationship later on in life. But it’s hard to see Kobe forgiving and forgetting.
In recent years Malone has mainly stayed off the grid, except to trash certain young modern day players and give his thoughts on the Michael Jordan vs. Scottie Pippen beef.
Vanessa, meanwhile, has become a symbol of strength in the face of tragedy. She has successfully saved Kobe’s fans from fraud, held police to account for their transgressions and dealt with a messy lawsuit involving her own mother in about as classy a way as anyone could.
Russell’s Broncos teammates didn’t show up to his birthday, but at least Ciara had a good time. https://t.co/RKBw8nJdVd
— Game 7 (@game7__) November 30, 2022
Everyone has moved on from 2004 and that’s great, but when history looks back on Malone and his legacy, it’s important to remember precisely the type of person he was.
As a basketball player, the Utah Jazz legend was undeniably impressive.
When it comes to the sort of person he was, though – folks can make their own judgments.