In the world of talk show TV, Isiah Thomas is gold. And folks who make talk show TV know when they have somethign that is going to go bonkers in the ratings — which is why NBA TV is zealously promoting a clip this afternoon in which former Thomas rips Karl Malone as the "weak link" of the Jazz teams that reached back-to-back NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998.
The entire basis of Thomas' argument isthat Malone was not a good free throw shooter, particularly late in games, costing the Jazz at least one of the two championship that ultimately went to the Bulls. Thomas is not wrong in that Malone missed some inopportune free throws over the course of his career. But the term "weak link" is what sticks out, and is why it is the clip NBA TV is distributing to promote the Oct. 8 premiere of "Open Court."
Thomas' dissertation ignores the fact that Malone spent his career making himself a reliable free throw shooter. As a rookie in 1985-86, Malone made just 48.1 percent of his free throws, but shot under 70 percent only twice more in his career and retired in 2004 as a career 74.2 percent shooter.
In the 1996-97 Finals, Malone shot just 35 of 58 from the free throw line, a paltry 60 percent. The next year he hit 78.9 percent of his foul shots in the six-game series.
Malone, whose career achievements include two MVPs and diamond cutting Dennis Rodman in a televised WWE match, is back in the mix with the Jazz. This summer he worked with both Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter and this week has been at training camp coaching big men.
Thomas starts off innocently enough, praising the Jazz of the '90s.
"I thought they had everything that it took to win a championship," Thomas begins during the roundtable discussion. "I thought they had the system, I thought they had the players, the tougness, the defensive-minded and everything. But I always felt like Malone was the weak link, because he wasn't a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter, they would have beat Chicago."
"They would have beat us one year," former Houston Rocket Kenny Smith says.
"I think they would have beat you," Thomas continues.
At this point, studio nice guy Ernie Johnson — bless his heart — interjects to ask, "And weak link is the term you want to use there? Or his inability to hit free throws."
Unfazed, Thomas resumes.
"That's a weak link," he says, "because at the end of the games, when you're playing at that level you come down to the las 30 seoconds or the last minute of the game, if that guy can't make foul shots, then he's the weak link. He's the guy tha tyou're fouling, he's the guy that you want to put on the line. You're not fouling Stockton. You're not putting him on the line, you're not letting him take the shot. you're going to Malone. I thought Malone's inability to make free throws was what stopped them from winning the championship."
Thomas, by the way, was a career 75.9 foul shooter.
— Bill Oram