Previously unseen Karl Malone interview reveals how painful 1998 Finals still are for Jazz great
Last Sunday, "The Last Dance" wrapped up with episodes nine and 10 of the documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. After much build-up, the project finally centered on the 1998 Finals, in particular the deciding Game 6 in Utah.
Jordan, of course, won that game almost by himself. With Scottie Pippen fighting through a debilitating back injury, Jordan put up 45 of the Bulls' 87 points and took more shots than the rest of the team combined. In the final minute, with the Bulls down by three, he scored a layup, then stole the ball from Karl Malone and came down to drain the iconic game-winning jumper over Bryon Russell.
Those two Jazz players, Malone and Russell, both declined to participate in the documentary. Director Jason Hehir said he tried multiple times to get them to sit down for interviews, but neither were interested. It's not all that surprising that they wouldn't want to re-live those moments, especially Malone.
But we do have a bit of insight into Malone's thoughts, or lack thereof, about Game 6 and playing against Jordan. On Wednesday night, ESPN released a previously unseen clip from an interview with Malone in which he's asked about Jordan and that game.
Full transcript of the clip, which is worth watching to get a sense for Malone's tone and reluctance:
Interviewer: So when I say the name Michael Jordan, what comes to mind? Malone: Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan. Like, what else I need to say? Interviewer: So talk to me about the Game 6 Finals in Utah when he stole the ball. Malone: Why? Why do I have to? But I'll tell you this: I'm all man and I accept the responsibility for not winning more. And we was there, but we just happened to be playing the Chicago Bulls -- which wasn't just Michael Jordan, by the way. I have the utmost respect for Michael, but I never thought I was playing Michael Jordan. I thought I was playing the Chicago Bulls. But that's not, you know... everybody says 'this person was a bad man,' and all that. Well yes, I give them respect, but I gotta set up. I'm a man, and I was a bad son of a b---- too. So, that's how I look at that. And that's who I am. Maybe in my older years I can call it that bluntly, but I just call it like I see it.
This isn't the first time Malone has been prickly about this subject. In the New York Times' report from Game 6, it notes that Malone answered just a few questions, and would not speak about the events that transpired.
Malone walked after with a couple of televised comments, saying, ''I'm not a quitter,'' when asked about his future. But there was nothing more. He did not show up for interviews to face questions about his lapse at the end or how Jordan had swooped down to overshadow him again. Malone's 31 points were no match for Jordan's 45.
A few years ago, during a radio appearance, Malone chose Scottie Pippen over Jordan when naming his all-time starting lineup. While he later reversed course and said he was just joking, the initial snub was pretty revealing.
Other than these items, it's hard to find many thoughts from Malone on Jordan or the 1998 Finals. As his interview with ESPN showed, he simply doesn't feel the need to talk about it any further.
"Why?" he asked. "Why do I have to?" The truth is, he doesn't, and the fact that he won't is honestly more revealing than any quotes he could give about Jordan's greatness.