Former Utah Jazz great Karl Malone never backed down from any situation on the court. It led him to become involved in a controversial elbowing foul on fellow Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas that left him bloodied and required 40 stitches. Decades after the incident, Malone added more fuel to the fire.
Karl Malone’s controversial elbowing left Isiah Thomas bloody
It’s well documented that Thomas held internal tension with being left off the 1992 Dream Team roster.
The situation sprouted chatter that the former Pistons great became upset that John Stockton received a spot over him. It led Thomas to put out with a 44-point performance against Stockton in a matchup in November 1991.
When the two teams faced off again, things quickly went off the rails after Malone hit Thomas with an elbow to the head that left him bloodied. His actions quickly resulted in a few Pistons players and head coach Chuck Daly enraged.
Malone was ejected from the contest, while he received a $10,000 fine and a one-game suspension. Meanwhile, Thomas required 40 stitches to repair the injury.
Years later, the former Jazz great added more another layer to the situation.
Karl Malone justified his infamous elbowing that bloodied Isiah Thomas: ‘We can spin it anyway we want to spin it’
Malone held a strong reputation for his physicality throughout his career that led to several on-court confrontations.
In the decades since the incident involving Thomas, the situation remains unsettled discussion. During an interview in May 2012 on The Dan Patrick Show, the former Jazz great discussed the matter, voicing he didn’t intentionally hurt the fellow Hall of Famer.
“No sir,” Malone said. I never went out to hurt anybody on purpose, but he was driving to the basket and I was following through because he had the ball in front of me…I’m not here to defend my actions when I played. I played the game physical. I didn’t start playing until I got hit. Now go back and replay all the other stuff and things they were doing.”
Malone felt that his physicality was necessary to combat the playing style that many other players during that era embraced. He admitted he fouled Thomas hard but underlined that he never backed down from sticking up for his teammates.
“I never meant to do it, but if it comes between my teammates and opposing players, I don’t like’ em,” Malone said. “We can spin it any way we want to spin it. I fouled him and it was a hard foul. That’s what it was.”
Isiah Thomas still holds lingering bitterness toward Karl Malone
Malone may not regret his actions, but it’s a situation that still bothers Thomas.
During an interview with Terry Foster of the Detroit News in March 2014, the former Pistons great voiced that he viewed the incident as the “dirtiest play” he experienced in his basketball career.
“I think it was the dirtiest play I have experienced in the game of basketball in my life,” Thomas said of the play, which happened on a Pistons pick-and-roll with Malone rotating to cover the middle. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything as vicious and as intentional to a player. I still don’t understand it.”
“It was horrific,” Thomas said. “That was the cheapest (bleep) in my mind in the history of the game.”
Thomas wasn’t a stranger to participating in dishing out some hard fouls, but he feels Malone’s actions crossed the line. However, his comments look past the numerous times his teammates Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn went above and beyond fouling opposing players.
Beyond that, it’s clear that Thomas still holds strong resentment toward how Malone handled that may never cease to exist.