If you watched The Last Dance, you might have noticed a few key figures missing from the series. While we saw Karl Malone in plenty of highlights, the Utah Jazz great didn’t appear in any interviews. After his on-court battles with Michael Jordan, the forward wasn’t willing to take part in the project.
Despite that reality, we did get a glimpse into the Mailman’s mind. Even in retirement, he isn’t backing down from His Airness.
Karl Malone’s famous duels with Michael Jordan
During the 1990s, some great players were left without an NBA title due to Michael Jordan’s unprecedented dominance. Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone was one of those unlucky stars.
In Salt Lake City, Malone and John Stockton formed one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos. While their pick-and-roll play made the Jazz a playoff fixture, claiming back-to-back Western Conference titles, they weren’t able to claim the ultimate prize. That was due, in large part, to Michael Jordan.
In both the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals, the Jazz came up against the Chicago Bulls. Due to Malone and Jordan’s star status—both men were dominant scorers and had claimed NBA MVP titles—those series were framed as a battle of those two titans. While the Mailman played some inspired basketball, his efforts weren’t enough.
Game Six of the 1998 Finals, however, added insult to injury. In the dying seconds of the contest, Jordan stole the ball from Malone; seconds later, His Airness would knock down a jumper to seal the series. For all of the Mailman’s success, that moment still lives on in history.
The Mailman isn’t backing down from Michael Jordan
Despite the producers’ best efforts, Karl Malone didn’t want to appear in The Last Dance. Thanks to an E60 clip, though, we do have some insight into his thoughts about Michael Jordan.
“Michael Jordan,” Malone simply responded when asked what comes to mind when heard the name Micheal Jordan. “Like what else [do] I need to say?”
Malone was then asked about the series-deciding steal in the 1998 NBA Finals. While he did show some respect for His Airness, the Utah Jazz great isn’t ready to kiss the ring just yet.
“I’m all man, and I accept the responsibility for not winning [a championship], Malone explained. “We just happened to be playing the Chicago Bulls, which wasn’t just Michael Jordan, by the way. And I have the utmost respect for Michael, but I never thought I was playing Michael Jordan. I was playing the Chicago Bulls.”
“Everybody say this person was a bad man and all that,” Malone continued. “Well, yes, I give them respect. But I’ve got a setup. I’m a man, and I was a bad son of a bitch, too. So that’s how I look at that, and that’s who I am.”
With all respect to His Airness, Karl Malone has a point
Especially in light of The Last Dance, we’ve all been reminded of Michael Jordan’s legendary exploits. With all of that being said, Karl Malone does have a point.
While he might not have been MJ, the Mailman was an incredible player. During his 19 seasons in the NBA, Malone averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per outing; he might not have won a championship, but he claimed two MVP awards, made 11 All-NBA First Teams, and earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. That resume makes him more of standing on his own, rather than being a prop in Michael Jordan’s story.
As Malone himself said, Michael Jordan deserves immense respect for everything he did for the game of basketball. Just don’t forget what the Mailman did, too.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference