Did Karl Malone just challenge Kobe Bryant to a fight?

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Did Karl Malone just challenge Kobe Bryant to a fight?
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Man, a lot of aging Basketball Hall of Famers sure seem to have some strong opinions about Kobe Bean Bryant.

Karl Malone was a Laker for exactly one season, participating in an injury-plagued final campaign with Los Angeles in 2003-04 that saw the Lakers fall in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons. Malone retired following that season and seemed to be easing into a life spent moving construction equipment around before Bryant alleged that Malone hit on Kobe’s wife Vanessa (who is Latino) while attending a Laker game.

Remember this?

On Nov. 23, the night the Lakers played the Bucks at Staples Center, Vanessa was talking on the phone to Malone's wife, Kaye. Kaye gave Vanessa her husband's cellphone number, and Vanessa called Malone, who was sitting at courtside, and invited Malone's child to join her.

Malone, wearing cowboy boots and a hat, eventually took the child to Vanessa.

Malone hugged Vanessa, and then Vanessa asked -- as Manley recounts this part of the story -- "Hey, cowboy, what are you hunting?"

"She said it twice," Manley said, "and Karl answered the second time, 'I'm hunting for little Mexican girls.' "

After the game Vanessa told Bryant that Malone had come on to her, and said several inappropriate things. She also told Bryant that she had called Malone's wife and asked Kaye to get her husband away from her.

Bryant called Malone on his cellphone after the game, and Bryant laid into Malone. Bryant said Malone didn't have much to say in return and didn't deny anything.

That’s an understandable beef for Bryant to develop.

Strangely, while appearing on Huffington Post Live, Malone made an odd invitation toward Bryant in his typical Karl Malone-ese, just about asking Kobe to get in the ring with the Mailman. Watch:

Here’s a transcript:

"We had a little issue," Malone told host Marc Lamont Hill. "I don't hold grudges ... I love Westerns. I'm old-school Western. Back in the day, when you had a beef, you didn't go get guns and knives ... we just go back in the back with no cameras and knuckle up. Get it over with."

Hill pressed Malone if he offered Bryant that route to resolution.

"It's a standing offer," Malone said. "Look, I don't want no trouble. I don't have a problem. People say whatever they want to say and that's great. I'm 6-9, 272 [pounds] to be exact. I'm not hard to find. I don't want no trouble. But if something got to go down, I'm not playing fair."

I would suggest that fighting a man currently wearing an arm sling after undergoing surgery to repair a significant tear in his right shoulder would be the epitome of “not playing fair,” but that’s Karl for you.

This is all very … weird.

That 2003-04 Laker team could have been a great one. Shaquille O’Neal was out of shape that season, and Bryant was fighting rape charges on some off days in a Colorado courthouse, but the team still managed to start the season on an 18-3 tear. Just before Christmas, however, Karl Malone sprained his knee after running into Phoenix Suns big man Scott Williams, suffering the first significant injury of his 20-year career. From there, point man Gary Payton seemed to age in dog years, the Lakers fell back, and championship contenders in Minnesota (perhaps the most unheralded and overlooked also-ran of the modern era), Sacramento, San Antonio and Dallas all found their rhythm.

After injuries struck the Wolves and the Derek Fisher sucker-punch took the wind out of San Antonio’s sails, the Lakers still managed to make their way to the Finals. Malone hurt that same knee again during that series, and a white-hot Pistons squad downed the Lakers in five.

Malone retired, Payton was dealt to Boston, coach Phil Jackson stepped away, O’Neal was traded to Miami, and Bryant (after flirting with the Clippers and Bulls) re-signed with the Lakers.

It was an abrupt ending. Just as abrupt and brief a fight between Kobe with one arm and the self-satisfied Malone would presumably be.

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Kelly Dwyer

is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!