As a celebrated guest at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend — in his former home base of Salt Lake City, no less — no one could blame Karl Malone for feeling a little nostalgic. During the last few days, the featured NBA Ambassador was a judge for the slam dunk contest and was recognized as the league’s number three scorer in history to huge applause and warm reception from fellow NBA bigwigs. But, after the festivities, the former power forward’s reminiscing appeared to only go so far, as he refused to answer reporters’ questions about certain segments of his past — including how, as a 20-year-old sophomore at Louisiana Tech, he impregnated his 13-year-old “girlfriend” and subsequently denied paternity of their child for decades.
“I’m not discussing any of that backlash. I don’t care,” Malone told a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune who asked about that chapter in his youth. “That’s my life, that’s my personal life, and I’ll deal with that like I’ve had to deal with everything. […] Whatever, I’m human.”
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Gloria Bell, who was 13 when impregnated by Malone in 1983, has said her family “declined to press statutory rape charges because of his impending NBA fortune.” But when Malone denied paternity of their son, former NFL offensive tackle Demetress Bell, Gloria’s family sued him, later settling out of court with an agreement to “not acknowledge” Malone as the father.
But Malone’s neglect doesn’t stop there, seeing as the Bell case isn’t the only paternity suit in his file. Similar proceedings took place with his former partner Bonita Ford, who gave birth to their twins Daryl and Cheryl Ford in 1980. Malone denied paternity and was sued, also settling out of court. Both kids went on to play basketball for Louisiana Tech, from which Cheryl launched a championship-studded 10-year career in the WNBA. It wasn’t until 1998 that Malone publicly acknowledged the Ford twins, saying “I didn’t handle it right,” and blaming “Father Time” for stealing away the lost years between him and his kids.
Despite Malone’s past, his legacy is especially sacred in Salt Lake City, where he played from 1985 to 2003. But that hasn’t stopped spectators from spending the weekend calling out the NBA on Twitter, saying its embrace of Malone is further proof that professional sports leagues will overlook abuse if it’s coming from their top earners. Certain commentators like Bomani Jones have also expressed outrage at Malone’s inclusion in the weekend, saying the revelation around the statutory rape is a “great reason” to “hate” the guy who’s long been known by NBA fans to be “creepy,” but has somehow evaded real consequences for his actions.