Skip to main content

While he was a star player in his own right, Karl Malone also had some famous duels with other NBA legends. As the top dog in the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz forward faced off against Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in back-to-back NBA Finals; the Chicago Bulls came on top in both series, leaving the Mailman without a championship ring.

Having seen both men up close, Karl Malone was well acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s respective games. Based on that insider knowledge, he once claimed that he’d rather build a team around Pippen than His Airness.

Karl Malone became a Utah Jazz legend

According to some sports fans, you need a championship ring to prove your greatness. Karl Malone never won an NBA title, but he still earned his place in Utah Jazz history.

Malone rose to prominence at Louisiana Tech, where he established himself as a legitimate force in the paint. Even in college, the Mailman delivered with incredible reliability; he averaged 18.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game and helped the Bulldogs reach the NCAA tournament on two separate occasions.

After graduation, Malone entered the 1985 NBA draft. He joined the Utah Jazz as the 15th-overall pick and teamed up with a guard by the name of John Stockton; from there, the rest is history.

The Mailman went on to spend 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz before spending a single campaign with the Lakers, hoping to win his first championship. While he never got that elusive ring, Malone’s play still made him a legend. If you needed a big performance in the paint, you could trust that the Mailman would deliver on time.

Doing battle with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen

During the late 1990s, Karl Malone’s Utah Jazz was the class of the Western Conference. Unfortunately, that meant they had to meet the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

While Malone was a legitimate star, he couldn’t outduel Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. In addition to losing both meetings in the finals, the Bulls stars added some insult to the Mailman’s injury.

During the 1997 Finals, Pippen burned Malone with “the greatest line [of trash talk] in basketball history,” telling him that the Mailman couldn’t deliver on Sunday. The Jazz forward promptly missed two free throws and eventually lost both the game and the series.

The following year, Jordan victimized Malone. In Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, His Airness famously stole the ball from the Mailman before nailing the series-clinching shot.

Karl Malone would build a team around Scottie Pippen, not Michael Jordan

While it probably wasn’t the most pleasant experience, Karl Malone got to see both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen up close. Based on that experience, he came to a surprising conclusion about the two stars.

Leading up to the launch of 2012 The Dream Team documentary, Malone appeared on “The Dan Patrick Show.” There, he explained why he would build his own personal dream team around Scottie Pippen, not His Airness.

“I would have to start my team with Scottie Pippen,” Malone said, according to Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports. “This is why I would take Scottie: Do you remember the time that Michael retired? I watched Scottie Pippen when the Chicago Bulls weren’t really good and Scottie led that team in every statistical category, and I just remembered that. Plus, he’s a guy who could care less about scoring. He wants to stop the best player on the other team. That would have been pretty cool, to see Scottie guarding Michael.”

On one hand, Malone has a point. Scottie Pippen is usually written off as Michael Jordan’s sidekick, but the forward was a legitimate talent in his own right; in today’s positionless NBA, he’d arguably be even more valuable than he was in the 1990s. On the other hand, though, it’s a bit questionable to select anyone, no matter how talented they are, over His Airness.

Does Karl Malone legitimately believe that he’d rather build a team around Scottie Pippen? Is he still holding a bit of a grudge against Michael Jordan? At the end of the day, only the Mailman himself knows the answer.

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference and Basketball-Reference


How Did Karl Malone Get His Iconic Nickname “The Mailman?”