Isiah Thomas unfair saying Karl Malone cost Utah Jazz championship


1998-Finals-1aKarl Malone is one of the greatest basketball players ever, who have never won NBA championship. The Hall of Famer played a total of 1476 NBA games (starting in 1471), holding career averages of 25.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 3.6 apg in 37.2 minutes.

Malone scored the second most career points in NBA history (36,298), and holds the records for most free throws attempted and made. He is generally considered one of the greatest NBA power forwards.

He was also selected to NBA’s All-Star teams 14 times, he played for USA Dream Team and was the 1997 NBA regular season MVP.

Despite all the above, some people refuse to give him credit for everything he did, saying he was “weak”. Yes, Isiah Thomas in particular, another legendary NBA player.

On Oct. 3, Isiah Thomas appeared on NBA TV’s “Open Court”, and spoke his mind on the Jazz-Bulls late 90′s NBA Finals series. While talking about the Jazz, Thomas said that Karl Malone essentially cost Utah a championship. Because Malone wasn’t a good foul shooter, Thomas felt that was the reason they didn’t beat the Chicago Bulls.

Malone spent his first 18 seasons (1985–2003) in the National Basketball Association (NBA) with the Utah Jazz and formed a formidable duo with his teammate John Stockton. The duo helped the Jazz team reach the NBA finals in 1997 and 1998, where they lost back-to-back titles to Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.

On the court, Malone was better than most – few NBA power forwards have come close to Malone in terms of longevity, consistency and so on. Basically, the only argument that Malone can’t oppose is not having won NBA championship.

Now, speaking of Isiah Thomas, a man who knows a thing or two about playing under pressure and winning championships (Detroit Pistons 1989, 1990), I disagree with his words that “Malone was the weakest link” on the Jazz team that lost back-to-back finals to the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and 1998.

As we all know, Chicago Bulls, led by Jordan, pretty much dominated the 90’s NBA, however it was the Jazz, led by the Stockton-Malone duo that brought the team into the finals twice, not once.

1991 NBA Finals – Bulls vs Lakers
1992 NBA Final – Bulls vs Blazers
1993 NBA Finals – Bulls vs Suns
1996 NBA Finals – Bulls vs Sonics
1997 NBA Finals – Bulls vs Jazz
1998 NBA Finals – Bulls vs Jazz

Despite the fact that the Jazz lost twice, the team did manage to get to the finals twice. That means more than Drexler and the Blazers, more than Barkley and the Suns, more than Kemp-Payton and the Sonics.

Thomas said Malone wasn’t reliable as he couldn’t make free throws – which is partially true, as Malone shot only 60 percent from free throw line in the 1997 finals. And yet that alone doesn’t make Malone “weakest link”.

Basketball is a team sport, and Malone-Stockton tandem obviously couldn’t win games on their own – there were other players. On the other hand, the Jazz totally relied on Malone, and I believe he did the best he could.

Somehow, Thomas didn’t mention the experience factor, and other Jazz players that were quite mediocre to say the least (Adam Keefe, Greg Foster, Greg Ostertag, Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley). How come they were not “weak links”?

I bet Thomas would never call Shaquille O’Neal “a weak link”, since O’Neal does have 4 NBA championship rings. Keep in mind – O’Neal was a 50 percent freethrow shooter in his career playoff games.

Of course since Malone doesn’t have any rings, it’s easy to sit back and talk about how bad he was. Yet, if we take a look at the stats: Malone was a 78 percent freethrow shooter in 1997 playoffs and 79 percent freethrow shooter in 1998 playoffs. He also has a career 73 percent career freethrow shooting percentage.

Thus, I believe one shouldn’t blame Malone alone on the loss to the Bulls in the 90’s finals games. It is very easy – to pin a blame on someone. Or did Thomas say that because he clearly remembers all those elbows Malone hit him with, while they both were playing?

Another example would be Charles Barkley. A great player, a legendary scorer and a rebounder. And yet – lost to the Bulls in 1993 finals as member of Phoenix Suns, and didn’t accomplish anything significant with Houston Rockets years later. Another “weak link” for the teams he played with?

The Jazz lost to the Bulls for several reasons. It may have been Malone’s freethrow shooting. It may’ve been overall age of the Jazz’ leading players and lack of athletism. It may have been bad officiating, which was the case in 1998 NBA finals. I obviously wouldn’t pin all the fault on Malone.

By Tim Tal

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