Michael Jordan led the NBA in steals three seasons during his career. There was none any bigger than the one in Game 6 of the NBA Finals between Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. Jordan is known for hitting the game-winning shot over Bryon Russell to win the Bulls’ sixth championship. Prior to that game-winning shot, however, Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone and stole the dreams of Malone’s first NBA title.
Karl Malone’s NBA career
One of the best NBA players to never win a title, Karl Malone was a force during his 19 years in the league. Malone played his college ball at little-known Louisiana Tech and was selected by the Jazz in the first round of the 1985 NBA draft. He was the 13th player taken.
Malone spent the first 18 years of his NBA career with the Utah Jazz. He was an inside force as a 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward. Like his longtime Jazz teammate John Stockton, Malone was never the flashy guy. He did the tough work inside and was a force both offensively and defensively. He was a 14-time NBA All-Star and he was twice named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
For his career, Malone averaged 25 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. In four seasons, Malone was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team. Despite his career success and his numerous times in the postseason, Malone never won an NBA title. Malone was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Malone was old school
Karl Malone wasn’t one for change. He was a hard-working player who got the most out of himself. He also demanded that his teammates work hard as well. When longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was let go in 2011, Malone wasn’t too happy. Jazz teammate Deron Williams had been critical of Sloan’s coaching style, specifically the demanding practice schedule. Malone jumped on Williams.
“You’re a professional,” said Malone in an ESPN article when Sloan was let go. “You don’t need for me to break a film down for you. If you want to stop the guy you’re playing, they pay you millions of dollars. You get you a TV and break the player down yourself. If I got something to say or do to a man, I’m going to look that man in the eye and tell him what is going to happen. That’s just me now.”
Malone believed some of the players were babied and weren’t old school like he and Stockton were. “They changed the floor back to old school. They changed the uniform back to old school. Somebody tell the damn players to start playing like old school,” Malone said in the ESPN article. “It may work. They spent a lot of money on the rest, now how about you tell the players. I’m just calling it like I see it.”
Michael Jordan crushes the hopes of Malone and the Jazz
The man they call “The Mailman” was delivering. Karl Malone had 31 points and 11 rebounds and had his team up by one point with 20 seconds left and his team with possession. Malone got the ball in the paint and was about to turn and shoot, but Michael Jordan came out of nowhere to strip Malone of the ball. Jordan then came down and hit the game-winning shot to give the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their third straight championship.
The Jazz put the ball into the hands of their go-to guy, but it was Chicago’s go-to guy who won the game. “I like my chances of going to Karl Malone every time,” said John Stockton in the Washington Post after the game. “He makes great passes, he makes great decisions, and he scores.”
Nobody was blaming Malone after the game. He had done all he could. The loss was just another painful one for the oh-so-close Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz. “Our guy did everything he could,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “Karl Malone left his heart on the court, like he always does.”