The unpopular opinion usually becomes what it is because not enough people are willing to face the truth. In sports, this happens for a variety of reasons, which can include rivalries or flat out not liking a player. The latter of the two reasons is what has led to one of my biggest issues for more than half of my life with how the NBA’s hierarchy of greatest players of all time is discussed. There is always room made for Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and more recently LeBron James.
However, for the most part, the conclusion always lands on one name: Michael Jordan. And yes, he is deserving of the credit: the championships, the iconic moments, the scoring titles, even the shoes. All of that has gone into shaping the opinion of him as being the standard bearer for not just his generation, but in all of basketball history.
But see, there’s a problem with this — it’s all wrong. While Jordan was winning with popularity, he was not even the best player in the league for the majority of his career. That honor should be rightfully bestowed on the head of Karl Malone, the greatest power forward of all time and the most underrated all-time great in history.
Look at the facts: Malone simply outperformed Jordan over the long haul. Look at the facts, and the argument is clear. While Jordan had a string of years averaging over 30 points a game, he only played for 15 years, while Malone booted up for 18 seasons and he only played less than 80 games in two seasons in his career. And over that time he scored 36,928 points, which puts him second place all time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who he is also better than) and gives him over 7,000 more points than Jordan. SEVEN THOUSAND. Add in the fact he was a better rebounder, passer and shooter than Jordan ever was, and it is pretty clear.
Now, the Malone detractors will lean on Jordan’s wins as putting him over, but there is a clear difference in why that happened for Jordan and did not for Malone: Scottie Pippen. Pippen changed the course of the Bulls franchise when he took the lead when he showed up in 1988 and carried Jordan along with him. Meanwhile, Malone did not have the benefit of a superstar mate that could step up and make plays when he wasn’t able to. John Stockton was solid and made a few passes, but everything was on Malone at the end by himself completely.
The final nail in the coffin of public opinion was the 1998 NBA Finals, when Malone, who was finally given his just due as MVP over Jordan, faced off in the Finals. Everything was in place for Malone and the Jazz to finally dethrone the Bulls as the preeminent team in basketball — until Jordan used the dirtiest move in basketball history to push off and nail a shot to win another Finals.
This moment stands in infamy and continues to be the blinders on what was the greatest career in NBA history by the numbers … that never will be given its proper due. Maybe if Malone had worn Nikes, shaved his head and took part in a bunch of pointless dunk contests like Jordan did to get over as popular, his star would get its proper due. But it never will be made right — all because of the culture’s hard-on for a less superior, one-dimensional, luck by association player like Jordan.
And another thing … have a great April Fool’s Day, folks.
I'm a firm believer that the closest I've gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I'll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and 'Live From The Cheap Seats'.