Karl Malone and John Stockton never won an NBA championship. Here’s what left them empty-handed.


(dramatic music) – John Stockton and Karl Malone formed the quintessential NBA tandem. The Utah Jazz drafted
Stockton 16th in 1984 then watched him become
a model point guard, steady handling the ball,
clever distributing it, deadly accurate shooting it, and so annoying trying to
take it from an opponent. Before Stockton’s second
season, Utah used the 13th pick on his ideal complement, Karl Malone. By himself, Malone was plenty capable of juking and jarring his
way to boards and buckets,. Engaged with Stockton’s timely passes, Malone’s offense became unstoppable, stylish Mailman dunks
and forceful finishes, impossible to contain without fouling, plus pick and pop jumpers
that connected like clockwork. Each of these two boasts an overwhelming
statistical profile. Stockton recorded more assists and more steals than anyone ever. Malone scored more points
than everyone but Kareem, made more free throws than
everyone including Kareem, and gobbled an enormous
volume of rebounds, too. Their individual NBA accolades are absurd. Two people this rare, this special, this exquisitely compatible
were mostly happy, mostly healthy teammates for 18 seasons and made the Playoffs
in all of those seasons. That’s 18 legitimate cracks
at winning a championship, and yet Stockton and Malone
each retired without a ring. So what happened? What stopped this perfect pairing short of even one perfect year? (slow dramatic piano music) In the late 80s, Utah’s prior stars cleared
the way for new ones. Adrian Dantley was traded. Darrell Griffith’s career
wound down because of injuries. And Utah’s rascally
legend of a head coach, Frank Layden, stepped aside to let a future coaching
legend take over, Jerry Sloan. Stockton and Malone developed
during this gradual transition and they didn’t make much
noise in the Playoffs with one notable exception. In 1988, the LA Lakers
were reigning champions with ’87 MVP Magic Johnson leading them to a league best 62 wins. LA was the team to beat,
and Utah almost beat them. This was a big year for the Jazz. Stockton became the full-time
starting point guard. The youngster led the league in assists for the first time and helped
Malone’s numbers improve enough to make his first ever All-Star team. With shot-blocking tower
Mark Eaton at center, Utah played the league’s
most efficient defense and upset Clyde Drexler’s
Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the Playoffs. Clyde would remember this. That set Utah up for
a second round matchup with these mighty Lakers. The Jazz made it a series. Stockton and Malone held their own against the league’s best
and actually stole one of the first two games in Los Angeles. By the time the best of
seven series returned to LA, it was tied two-two. Another road win in game five could have set Utah up to cle=inch
an incredible upset at home. Yes, it is common to call
a Utah player a Jazzman. Jazz-min? Jazz Man? Stockton and Malone both
excelled in game five. The little guy in particular
finished with 23 points, 24 assists, and five steals,
including some big ones. Down two with a minute and change left, Stockton ended a frantic Lakers possession by pilfering AC Green’s rebound, then raced up the floor to
find Malone, who drew a foul. Malone bricked one important free throw, which I’m afraid is gonna be a theme, but he made the second to pull within one. Then Stockton did it again. This time, it was Magic himself
whose pocket got picked. Stockton relayed a long
outlet to the Mailman who sent home a thunderous dunk to put the Jazz up 1 with
less than a minute to play. Michael Cooper’s surprise clutch shot eventually put the Lakers back on top, but Utah still had chances, plural. Down one with seven seconds left, a desperate Eaton threw
the inbound pass away, but James Worthy missed
one of his free throws, so the Jazz had a final chance down two. This time, it was
Stockton’s turn to mess up. Under the pressure of a double team, Stockton couldn’t get a
pass or a shot off in time. They’d blown their chance. Utah tied it back up
at home but surrendered to the eventual champions because of an excellent Magic
performance in game seven. In ’88, ’89, Sloan took
over for Layden mid season, and Stockton joined Malone for the first of so many All-Star games together. Eaton, too. Utah won a best-yet 51 games, but Don Nelson’s Warriors
absolutely smoked the Jazz in one of the most remarkable
firs round upsets ever. A seven seed swept a two seed. In Sloan’s first full season, the Jazz rebroke their franchise
record to reach 55 wins but once again stared
down a first round upset. In a decisive game five
against the Phoenix Suns, Stockton and Malone got outplayed by Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers. After a crucial
Stockton-Johnson jump ball, it was actually Eddie Johnson who put Phoenix up one with
just over a minute left. And when Utah took the lead back, it was Eddie again who drilled
a preposterous bank shot and won to put Phoenix up two. The Stockton-to-Malone connection tied it, but Phoenix fired back. With Eaton off the floor
against the small Suns’ lineup, Kevin Johnson attacked, drew help, dished off to little-used
benchwarmer Mike McGee, and got the ball back and
hit a tough mid-range J just before the buzzer. Stockton’s half-court prayer missed, and Utah had fallen once
again in the first round. It was not a very good feeling. Entering their prime, Utah’s new core had already achieved a
lot in the regular season, but they had suffered the
full range of Playoff despair. And thanks to these folks,
there was more to come. Between 1991 and ’96,
the Jazz lost to each of these teams twice, once
each in the Conference Finals, once each in an earlier round, and they alternated
almost making the Finals with not even coming close. Weird times. The first problem was Portland. In ’90 ’91, the Jazz added another Malone, Jeff Malone, no relation,
sent John and Karl to yet another All-Star
game, got a great year from long-time Jazzman
Thurl Bailey, won 54 games, and got revenge on the
Suns in the first round. But remember this guy? This guy was waiting. Clyde Drexler and the
number one seed Blazers smacked Utah out of the second round, though it was closer than it looked. After Portland dominated game one at home, the Jazz made a huge game two comeback, creating a last second chance
to seize home court advantage. The Blazers led big in the fourth, but the Mailman rallied Utah
with 20 points in the period, including some super clutch free throws. In the final seconds of
a miraculously tied game, this Drexler pass found its way through Mike Brown’s fingertips
to Terry Porter inside, and Porter’s bucket ended
up being the difference once Stockton missed
a tough buzzer beater. So, so close, but almost wasn’t enough. The Blazers staved off another
near comeback in game four, then took the series at home in five. Onto next year. Utah bolstered their front court, adding rookie forward David Benoit and boldly traded the beloved Thurl Bailey for the younger Tyrone Corbin. It was a great season. The Jazz won 55 games to
top the Midwest division and secure a Playoff two seed. They survived a scare from the Clippers in the first round then
took care of Shawn Kemp and the Seattle Supersonics
in the second round. Shawn would remember this. But for the time being, there is 1992, the Jazz had finally broken through to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Waiting for them was the one
seed, the Blazers, again. The first four games were
pretty straightforward. Terry Porter fueled two Blazer home wins. Karl Malone fueled two Jazz home wins. That made game five of this
seven-game series pivotal, but the Jazz were shorthanded. Benoit, who’d been promoted
to the starting lineup during the Playoffs, left the team after the death of his father. Utah’s lineup got even thinner
at the first half buzzer when Drexler’s flailing left
hand bonked Stockton so hard in the eyeball that it ended
the Utah point guard’s night. Ball handling duties in one
of the most important halves in Jazz history thus fell to Delaney Rudd, a career journeyman on the
fringe of the Playoff rotation. And this came close to
being the Delaney Rudd game. Both Karl and Jeff Malone shot well, and Ty Corbin had the game
of his life off the bench. Rudd was moving the ball well. With seconds remaining
and Utah down three, Delaney Rudd called his own
number and did the damn thing. – [Announcer] Three pointer. Oh my, right down the middle! – His clutch three pointer
sent the game to OT where Utah had a prime opportunity to pull ahead on the road. They blew it. After the teams went back and forth a bit, Blazer big man Kevin Duckworth hit one of his pretty floaters
for a three-point lead. Drexler attacked the rack to make it five, and Duckworth unfurled
more silk to make it seven. I love that shot so much. Anyway, Rick Adelman’s
club didn’t look back. The shorthanded, demoralized Jazz couldn’t even push the
series back to Portland. They lost at home in game six. Still, a trip to the ’92 Conference Finals was something to build off,
perhaps a stepping stone toward a deeper run in ’93. Didn’t happen. Jazz and Karl had career years, and, in fact, were named co
MVPs of the All-Star game. But Mark Eaton was slowing
down because of injuries, Utah’s defense slipped, and
things got particularly bad after the All-Star break, so bad that team owner
Larry Miller felt compelled to squash rumors that Sloan’s
job might be on the line. Utah trudged into the 1993
Playoffs with just 47 wins, but they did take a two one lead in their first round series
against the favored Sonics. Game four in Utah could have
closed out a series upset. Instead, the Jazz collapsed
in the second half and couldn’t climb back into
it because of this guy again. Eddie Johnson, now a Sonic, commanded the final five minutes. This and one gave Seattle a 12-point lead. This three just about iced the game, and this strange bucket to go up 17 was just unnecessarily rude. Johnson scored 10 of
Seattle’s final 13 points, although let’s not forget
Utah’s self-inflicted wounds. Sam Perkins certainly didn’t. After Utah missed not one, not two, but holy shit,
three point-blank shots on this critical possession,
Perkins just stood over Mike Brown, pointing and taunting. Perkins was a problem all series, and he led a Sonic comeback
in the decisive game five. This three over the bigger, slower, ill-equipped Eaton cut
a Utah lead to four. This one cut it to three. This cut it to two. And that was all the
momentum the Sonics needed. They pulled ahead and held
on to deny the series upset. So after coming pretty close
to the NBA Finals in ’92, the Jazz were a first-round loser in ’93. They’d yet to battle
Michael Jordan’s Bulls who’d been crushing all
western challengers. But Jordan’s 1993
retirement to play baseball suspended the Chicago
dynasty, opening the window for some western team
to make it all the way. Utah management pursued that open window with help for John and Karl. They traded for young
big man Felton Spencer who would assume a substantial role as back injuries sidelined Eaton for good. Utah also snagged Tom Chambers off the Suns for some bench help and made a big deadline trade, swapping their other Malone
for a different Jeff. With Jeff Hornacek, Utah
finished the season hot, entered the 1994 Playoffs a five seed, and beat David Robinson’s
Spurs in the first round. Utah’s series win set up a likely rematch with the Sonics, the NBA’s
best regular season team. But in an astounding upset, the eight seed Denver
Nuggets knocked Seattle out of the picture. Utah’s path suddenly became much clearer. They shot out to a three
O lead versus Denver. They proceeded to blow
that entirely but held on in game seven, advancing to
the Western Conference Finals. Back in the mix. But now the Jazz had to face a new boss. The Houston Rockets had nearly choked away their second-round series against Charles Barkley’s Suns, but they survived because
Hakeem Olajuwon was indominable. Hakeem and Kenny Smith led Houston to an easy game one victory
at home against the Jazz. Game two was closer, but on the same night he
accepted the MVP trophy, Olajuwon handily won a
shootout with Malone. Without the gigantic Eaton to at least attempt guarding
Olajuwon one on one, the Jazz front court sounded haunted. Spencer was actively
soliciting suggestions for how to stop the guy. It felt like it would
take divine intervention to overcome Hakeem’s
supremacy that spring, and the Jazz actually got
some; they just wasted it. In Salt Lake City for game three, Olajuwon went cold, and
the Jazz role players made it a two one series. Malone played game four ill,
and the Jazz fell behind early. But Stockton and Hornacek
piloted a huge comeback, and, facing a narrow deficit
in the final seconds, Stockton really dialed up the Stockton. First, he buried a corner three to cut Houston’s lead to
two with 13 seconds left. Then, on the ensuing end bound, the veteran tangled with rookie
Houston guard Sam Cassell and fell to the ground convincingly enough that Cassell got called
for an offensive foul. Utah ball, down two with time to spare. Speaking of time to spare, here comes the divine intervention. Watch the clock. So the Jazz inbound with
13.5 seconds on the clock. Hornacek dribbles and
dribbles and dishes to Malone, who whips across court to Humphries. And if you pause it real quick, the clock still hasn’t started. By the time it does, Chambers thinks time is running out and rushes
an ugly shot in traffic. The Rockets chase down the rebound and dribble out a clock that
should’ve expired awhile ago, and that’s it. The Jazz were blessed
with the most egregious of home cooking, but
they just got confused, squandered their chance to tie the series, then complained they
didn’t get a foul call on top of the (muffled
speaking) extra time. Houston owned game five at home, won the series, and went on
to win the ’94 Championship. Oh, well. Jordan’s too little too late return made 1995 another opportunity for the West to win a championship. The Jazz felt it would be their year. You could tell because their
team slogan was It’s Our Year, and they played like it on both ends, logging their first-ever 60 win season despite Spencer’s season-ending
Achilles tear in January. That injury would leave
37-year-old James Donaldson to guard Olajuwon whenever Utah ended up rematching the Rockets, which, surprisingly, was the first round. The Rockets were coming
off a bumpy season. They lost more than expected, even after a big mid-season trade for Olajuwon’s old college teammate. Yup, that’s Clyde Drexler. Houston entered the post
season a shorthanded six seed, got further shorthanded during the series, and looked genuinely vulnerable when the Jazz owned game three in Houston to take a two one lead. The old five Slama Jama pals combined for 81 points to win game four, which sent the series back
to Utah for game five. The favored Jazz just needed one home win to get revenge and eliminate
the reigning champs. And things were looking good early. Hornacek ended the first half of game five with one wild three,
then another wilder three to build a seven-point
lead and so much momentum. Utah increased that edge to
10 in the fourth quarter. But then it was Hakeem time. For over four minutes in which
the Jazz stars fell silent, Olajuwon led Houston on a 10 O run, finishing on an elegant baseline banker to put Houston up three
under the two-minute mark. The Rockets held that lead,
then fouled on purpose in the closing seconds to put Stockton on the line for two shots down three. The tactic worked as Houston
rebounded his deliberate miss. Our year ended in a first-round loss. Conference Finals, first-round loss. Conference Finals, first-round loss. Only one thing to do in ’96. The Jazz added a few useful pieces, won 55 games, overcame the
Blazers in the first round, outlasted the Spurs in the second round, and made it back to the
Western Conference Finals. More even year magic. This time, they’d have
to face the Sonics again in a under card to the Jordan
versus Shaq Eastern Finals. It didn’t start so hot. Stockton was hurting, and
Seattle’s elite defense swallowed Utah whole in game one. The Jazz kept game two much closer, but in the final minutes,
their stars looked overmatched. Gary Payton cooked Stockton
to build a late Seattle lead. Shawn Kemp overpowered Malone to maintain that lead then did it again. With seconds left and a win
still very much on the table, Stockton panicked against a
Payton-Perkins double team and threw the ball straight to Kemp. Utah looked great at home for game three, but game four came down to
a double-digit comeback, and, well, Malone shot just three of
eight from the free throw line, including this late miss that would have pulled Utah within one
in the final two minutes. The Jazz defense bought
their offense more chances, but Stockton overthrew an entry to Malone, then drew iron on a three pointer that would’ve won the game at the buzzer. This was a grouchy week
of Jazz basketball, one in which Malone compared his teammates to kids and wished aloud he could get in their heads to say
what are you thinking. But Utah rallied. Stockton was really dragging because of a variety of injuries but came up with this huge steal to secure a victory in overtime of game five in Seattle. Malone outplayed Kemp
with some massive numbers to win game six at home in a blowout. Thus, another Jazz season and
this time a long-awaited trip to the NBA Finals came
down to a do-or-die game. And once again, its conclusion balanced on clutch plays and free throws. Stockton ensured a close
finish by punctuating his best, gutsiest game of the
series with this floater to cut Seattle’s lead to
one with 90 seconds left. Kemp hit some free throws, but Bryon Russell found
Malone to cut it back to one. Kemp hit some free throws again, then a gorgeous Stockton-Malone pick and roll drew a Kemp foul
with eight seconds left. Malone needed two makes to
cut the margin back to one, keep pace with Kemp, and overcome the bad
foul shooting narrative that lingered from game four. He’d hit six of his 10
free throws in the game. On number 11, uh uh. Still in it, though, as long
as Malone hit the second one. Oh, no. Seattle rebound, game over, series over. The Sonics advanced to the Finals where oh, right, he’s back. So yeah, over a six-year
stretch of the 90s that included two mostly
Jordanless seasons, Stockton and Malone never
even made it out of the West. In their next chapter,
they’d finally do it, only to face MJ and the
reformed Bulls powerhouse. But Michael’s fifth and sixth
rings weren’t inevitable. This little era, the beginning
of the mountain jerseys, was probably peak Jazz. In their mid 30s, Stockton
became a truly elite shooter, and Malone became an MVP
and all-NBA defender. Sloan had as deep a rotation as ever, including a developing
center in Greg Ostertag; the mother (beep) big
dog, AKA Antoine Carr; and a couple guys who could
at least try to guard Jordan, Bryon Russell, who grew
into a full-time starter; and a scrappy rookie
named Shandon Anderson. Utah owned the West in ’97, winning a franchise record 64 games, swiftly dispatching both LA franchises, then finally getting the
clutch play they needed in the Western Conference
Finals against the Rockets. Eddie goddamn Johnson did it to Utah again with the three pointer that won game four and tied the series, but the biggest shot of Stockton’s career broke a game six tie at the buzzer to send Utah to the Finals and spark this celebration
over a decade in the making. So the 1997 NBA Finals. The Bulls four two series victory included three very close
wins with iconic moments that totally could’ve gone the other way. Game one in Chicago is famous because Jordan hit a game
winner over Bryon Russell. Not the game winner over Bryon
Russell you’re thinking of but a game winner. That shot eclipsed what came before it. This Malone up and under
put the Jazz up one with 90 seconds left. Jordan missed his shot to
get the Bulls the lead, but Ron Harper rebounded it to get Scottie Pippen this three pointer. Even then, Stockton responded
to put the Jazz back up one, and Jordan missed
an important free throw that left the game tied. Malone went to the line himself, needing just a point to break that tie but pooped his pants yet again. And boom, Michael made
everyone forget his own misses. (up-tempo dramatic music) Utah eventually tied the Finals to all. Malone made it happen at the line, but MJ pulled the Bulls
ahead in the series with his famous flu
game, 38 brilliant points despite a debilitating stomach infection. But the flu game easily
could’ve been a loss. Hornacek could have hit
this late three to tie it. After Stockton got fouled
rebounding that miss, he could’ve hit the first
then intentionally miss to set up a miraculous tip in for OT, but Stockton missed the first one. No (speaks in foreign language). And Chicago game six closeout is famous because Steve Kerr, who’d
struggled all series, buried the tie-breaking
game-winning jumper off a kickout from Jordan. Well, that game was tied
in the first place because, seconds before, Anderson had
whiffed a point-blank finish. And Kerr’s shot was the winner because, seconds after, down two points, Russell threw an inbound pass to nobody. That did it. Our guys had a better chance
of dethroning the Bulls in ’98. The Jazz had home court advantage and were way better rested than
a banged-up Chicago team that had narrowly won a
seven game Eastern Final versus the Pacers. Stockton excelled, and
Pippen missed a buzzer beater in OT of game one, so
Utah held serve early. They might have kept it that way if Malone didn’t go so cold in game two. The Mailman’s final brick
could have tied the game with 23 seconds left. Over in Chicago, Utah could’ve stolen back a road win to retie the series if not for this strange game four ending. With Chicago up two, MJ
missed a potential dagger, but Malone and Dennis
Rodman’s wrestling match for the rebound, as opposed to
their actual wrestling match, drew a whistle on Karl. A career 60% free throw
shooter canned both to keep the Jazz at arm’s length. Even the legendary game
six, which concluded with the Jordan shot over Bryon Russell, could’ve gone the other way. Just seconds before Jordan’s
final shot as a Bull, Stockton had hit a huge
three to go up three, and Malone had a chance
to restore that lead before he let Michael snatch it away. We have a whole rewinder about this and how Utah would’ve been
favored in game seven, but the point is this. After years spent
falling short in the West because of free throws
and late game mishaps, John and Karl had two very real chances to punch holes in Michael Jordan’s legacy. They fell short not
just because of Michael but because of free throws
and late game mishaps. And they never made it
back top the Finals, at least not together. Malone had one last ring
chase with the Lakers, but he was hurt a lot, and the Pistons swatted LA in the Finals. So Karl Malone and John
Stockton retired ringless. To leave it at that oversimplifies their
unbelievably successful careers. Each was a statistical marvel. Together, they played
nothing but winning seasons. This legendary duo would surely trade that unparalleled consistency
for even one title, but there’s no shame
in the way things went. For the better part of a decade, nearly every genuine contender had to get past Stockton and
Malone at some point. As far as NBA championships go, these two were the
greatest to never do it. (soaring dramatic music)

100 thoughts on “Karl Malone and John Stockton never won an NBA championship. Here’s what left them empty-handed.

  1. I know MJ is a Goat but in this series the Jazz blew some these games. I saw this series as a teenager and most of these games except for one game were super close. The Jazz had their chances to win and outright win the series. As a neutral in these finals I did feel bad because I knew MJ already had his rings and the Jazz deserved one championship. Great series these 2 finals were

  2. Best duo to never win it. I loved watching them though. I was a huge Sonics fan so I was happy a few times lol. But same can be said about Sonics really. Payton And Kemp never got it done either

  3. Remember those games and I just can’t help but laughing to death every time Malone was in the free throw line in their very important championship games. MJ 🐐

  4. Karl Malone slept with underage women. knocked-up at least one, and ignore at least that one child. That's just the tip of the iceberg with that guy

  5. Karl Malone is a loser.. has so many kids and abandons them. Coward. Should be erased from the NBA for his extremely low moral character.

  6. Nicely done. I had lost track of their 1st round or Conf. Finals pattern and had totally forgotten them almost blowing their big series lead against the Nuggets. As a big 90s Bulls fan, I have watched the entirety of those 97 and 98 Finals series at least 5 times each. I marvel at how many plays there were in each, where if one thing goes a little differently, the Bulls lose. There are many

  7. Malone and Stockton are the 4th best duo. Mj and Scottie, Magic and Kareem, Kobe and Shaq, then these two. There is no other duo that are first or second in three of the five basketball categories (points, rebounds, blocks, steals, and assist). They should have had at least two championships but unfortunately they met the Bulls and the rest is history.

  8. It was just the era they played in. Stockton and Malone had great teams but that era was so competitive that you would routinely face teams with two hall of famers in the second round.

  9. I feel West and Baylor are the best duo. It is still a shame, neither was and MVP.
    And only West would win just 1 NBA title.
    Talk about insane stat line, look up Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

  10. The Jazz doesn't have any killers on their team, someone who can put a nail in the coffin of their opponents. Malone although a scorer, is also a big time choke artist. Their defense wasn't that good either.

  11. Can relate to this too much as a lifelong Bills fan. There is a sadistic beauty of following a horrible team with the hopes of a cathartic lifting of the curse.

  12. What stopped Stockton and Malone from giving Utah their first NBA Championship.

    Me: Michael Jordan.
    SB Nation: Oops watch. Kevin Johnson, James Worthy.

  13. It was a different time that’s for sure. Utah has a tough playoff loss and the bolster their front court. These days a team falls short and they looking either for a superteam or a wing guy.

  14. Ahhhhhh thanks bro! I appreciate you uploading this. Idk if you listened to my recommendation but I remember asking for this.

  15. Because they ran into a better team in the bulls. They are still legendary players and all time greats. No titles doesn't change that.

  16. Barkley and Malone are two of the all time greats, who both had real legitimate shots at getting at least one ring but just couldn't get it done… both faced Jordan and lost and both had great chances the two years he wasn't there and still couldn't

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