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

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...
karl malone and john stockton never won an nba championship here s what left them empty handed
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

John

son 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...
karl malone and john stockton never won an nba championship here s what left them empty handed
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

them

e, 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...
karl malone and john stockton never won an nba championship here s what left them empty handed
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

John

son and Tom Chambers. After a crucial

Stockton

-

John

son jump ball, it was actually Eddie

John

son 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

John

son 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, t

here

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, t

here

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 short

handed

. 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. - Three pointer. Oh my, right down the middle! - His clutch three pointer sent the game to OT w

here

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 short

handed

, 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

John

son, 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.

John

son 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 whe

never

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 short

handed

six seed, got...
further short

handed

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 w

here

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

John

son 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 t

here

'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

championship

s go,...
these two were the greatest to

never

do it. (soaring dramatic music)