Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Kent Horner/NBAE via Getty Images /

16. Karl Malone

  • Resume: 19 seasons, 2 regular season MVP Awards, 14-time All-NBA selection, 14-time NBA All-Star, 2-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 4-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Utah Jazz’s all-time leading scorer, NBA’s second all-time leading scorer, member of the Dream Team, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, .516/—/.742 shooting splits, 23.9 career PER, 234.6 win shares

Is it ironic that the night the NBA presented Karl Malone with his first MVP trophy — Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals — he missed two go-ahead free throws in the last 20 seconds and Michael Jordan hit the game-winner? Actually, the answer is “no,” since MJ probably should’ve won that award and “The Mailman” became infamous for failing to deliver in the clutch.

However, with that major flaw out of the way, it’s time to acknowledge what a dynamic force Malone was over an extended period of time. Nobody in NBA history ran the high pick-and-roll more effectively than Stockton and Malone, which is part of the reason one is the all-time leader in assists and the other is the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer.

Malone could knock down mid-range jumpers, he could finish at the basket, he got better defensively as his career progressed, he won two MVP Awards and he was the best player on a Jazz team that might have brought a championship to Utah on two separate occasions if it weren’t for that pesky Bulls dynasty.

Does it suck that another one of his signature playoff moments came in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, when Jordan stole the ball from Malone and proceeded to hit the game-winner? Yes. But even with his tendency to shrink from the moment like a slug in saltwater, Malone never dipped below 20 points per game for 17 years. That’s pretty damn unprecedented, and The Mailman deserves credit for delivering for such a long time.