If the honors seemed overdue, nine years after John Stockton and Karl Malone last took the floor for the Jazz, the pairing was perfect.
The Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation wanted to induct the legends together, after they went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a year apart. So the two of them teamed up one more time Tuesday night at EnergySolutions Arena, joining former BYU athletes Richard George, Chad Lewis and Doug Padilla in the annual ceremony.
Having them appear on the same stage once again drove home how remarkable it is that the Jazz could land those two in successive drafts and keep them together for 18 seasons. Two of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History performed right here.
Seriously, how did this happen? Let’s just say it would be asking a lot for any other generation of Jazzmen to form a bond like theirs and reach the heights they did. That basically would mean having Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors play together in Utah until 2028 and be named two of the 100 Greatest Players in NBA History for the league’s 100-year anniversary in 2046.
“I never say never, but I don’t think it’ll happen again, for two guys to stay together that long in the same place and build something pretty special,” Malone said during an interview session.
Asked if he marvels about their longstanding partnership, Stockton said, “I do, when I stop and look around at what’s going on elsewhere, but when I think back to our days, there were no other options.”
Sure, free agency existed then, but Malone and Stockton fit so nicely into Utah and blended together so well that sticking with the Jazz was comfortable for them. They also won a bunch of basketball games.
“We had a great situation,” Stockton said. “Absolutely great city, great organization, and we had wonderful teammates, so there was no reason to look anywhere else.”
Even when they were apart during the summers, they drove one another in conditioning efforts. Maybe there was some self-interest involved — “If I get down the floor, he’s going to get me the ball,” Malone said — but the real motivation was not letting the other outdo him. Even now, Stockton pictures Malone working out, and they both look as fit as ever.
Stockton was predictably brief in his acceptance speech, concluding by saying he was yielding to the floor to the “senator from Louisiana.” They both were very classy in their remarks. Stockton, who lives in his hometown of Spokane, Wash., spoke of Utah as a place where he’s “totally at home” and cited his relationships with former teammates and coaches as something “you can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
Malone’s speech was focused and poignant, particularly in his tribute to the late Larry H. Miller. He also expressed appreciation to former Jazz coach and executive Frank Layden for drafting him and spoke of his love and admiration for Stockton.
In the media session, he thanked coach Jerry Sloan for being “stubborn enough to keep running the same plays.”
Stockton and Malone made them work, like nobody in Jazz uniforms ever did, or ever will do again.