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Judging Karl and Reggie

   by Larry Ness - 02/14/2005

First the news was leaked late last week by Reggie's sister (I don't trust mine, do you trust yours?), that this would be Reggie's final season. Then on Sunday, Karl Malone, apparently unable to stand the embarrassment of being 'dissed' by Kobe's loving wife (Malone should have known that Kobe has a certain charm when it comes to women!), announced his retirement from the game.

Miller's Pacers may make the playoffs this year but it's highly unlikely they'll be able to win Reggie that elusive title in this his 18th season. As for Malone, his career ends after 19 FANTASTIC seasons but NO title!

The tributes for Malone have already started. He leaves the game as the NBA's second all-time scorer, just 1459 points behind Kareem. He's second in career minutes played, third in games played and sixth in rebounding. In 18 seasons with the Jazz, Malone was an 'iron-man', missing just NINE games! He was named All-NBA 11 times and was a 14-time All Star.

Although not as durable as Malone, Miller missed just 14 of a possible 788 games between 1990 and 2000 and will leave the game as no worse than 14th all-time, in points scored. He will likely pass Ewing into 13th place before the year is out and could pass Jerry West into 12th place.

Miller is of course, best known as the league's all-time leader in three-points shots. He's taken more and made more than any player-ever! And not just by a small margin. Dale Ellis is No. 2 all-time in three-point field goals made, more than 800 behind Reggie! Miller never was named to the All-NBA first or second team and played in just five All Star games. FYI, the legendary Shawn Kemp played in SIX!

With or without a championship to his credit, Malone's place in the Hall of Fame is secure. Back in 1996, he was named as one of the NBA's Fifty Greatest Players, when the league celebrated its 50th anniversary. Miller will be a harder sell, although I imagine he'll get in.

Now to the part where I 'judge'! Malone and Miller are not the first great players to have not won championships and won't be the last. I DO NOT believe that winning a championship is a criteria for entering the Hall of Fame but join me in a closer look at how Malone and Miller's teams have performed in the postseason.

Malone (and of course his Robin-sidekick John Stockton) led the Jazz into the playoffs in all 18 years they played together in Utah. However, NINE times (exactly half!), the jazz were eliminated in the first round! Think about that! Let it sink in! That's a TERRIBLE record!

For some perspective, note that contemporaries Barkley and Ewing (also title-less in their Hall of Fame careers) fared MUCH better. Barkley's teams went 8-3 in opening round series before as a shell of his former self and barely contributing anymore, the Rockets were eliminated in the first round of his final two seasons (still he's 8-5). As for Ewing, he led the Knicks past the first round in 11 of his 13 playoff seasons in New York!

Back to Malone. In his first six seasons, he NEVER made it past the second round. Again some perspective. Magic won a title in his first year, Bird and Kareem in their second seasons! In his seventh, ninth and 11th seasons, the Jazz made the Western Conference Finals, losing all three times to three different teams (it was not like Wilt always losing to Russell!).

Malone finally got the Jazz into the finals in his 12th and 13th seasons, only to face MJ and the Bulls. It hard to argue that the Jazz SHOULD have beaten the Bulls either year but they COULD have!

In the first meeting they had a chance to take a 3-2 lead in a Game 5 at home but lost 90-88. The following year the Jazz had the home court advantage and after a Game 1 win, lost Game 2 at home, 93-88. Down 3-2 in the series but with the final two games scheduled for Salt Lake City, the Jazz had maybe their best chance-ever!

Of course that game ended with MJ stripping the ball from Malone and completing a storybook final shot for the ages in a 87-86 Chicago win. After that 1998 season, Malone's Jazz lost in the second round the next two years before losing in the first round in his final three seasons with the team.

His 18-year postseason record with the Jazz ended with 172 games played and an 85-87 overall record. His teams won 16 postseason series and lost 18 with the Jazz going 6-7 in deciding games of a series (either a Game 5 or 7).

Let's not forget last year when Malone took a major pay-cut to join the Lakers and finally get that 'ring'! Down 0-2 to the Spurs in the second round, LA came back to win four straight and then advanced to The Finals by taking care of the Timberwolves in six games. Malone was finally going to win that elusive title, as "only the Pistons", stood in the way!

You know what happened and Malone retired Sunday with 193 career playoff games played. No player has played in more (Stockton is second at 182) without a title!

Now to Reggie, who because of a few UNBELIEVABLE playoff performances, most notably two vs the Knicks (who NEVER won ANYTHING during those years by the way!), has been dubbed by many as one of the great clutch postseason players of all-time.

One of my favorite quotes is by ESPN's Linda Cohen, who once opined, "After all, who is more clutch in the playoffs than Reggie". If you know NOTHING about sports and even LESS about sports history, Linda Cohen is MUST-SEE TV!

To answer Linda's question as to who is more clutch than Reggie let me name just a few, starting with the most recent major contributors to multiple titles for their teams. How about Duncan, Shaq and Kobe, Michael, Hakeem, Isiah, Magic, Worthy, Kareem, Bird, McHale, Parrish, Cowens, Havlicek, Reed, Frazier, Wilt, Mikan and of course Bill Russell. All Russell did is lead the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 seasons, NEVER losing a deciding game!

Now back to one of the 'great' clutch postseason performers of all-time. In Reggie's 17 seasons (not counting this year), he's led the Pacers into the postseason 14 times. EIGHT times (or 57 percent of the time), the Pacers got eliminated in the first round, making even Malone and Stockton's 9-of-18 mark look good!

The first four times the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals they lost. The first three times in a Game 7 and what could be more 'clutch' than that? The fifth time was a charm for Reggie and Indiana though but in his only NBA Finals' appearance, his team lost to the Lakers in six games.

Last year, no longer the team's go-to guy, Reggie and the Pacers lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Pistons in six games. While surely not Reggie fault, I can't help but mention that the Pacers 436 points scored in that series, is the fewest points ever scored by a team in a six-game playoff series!

The final tally on Reggie's playoff 'greatness' is a team record of 13-14 in series played, including 1-5 in Conference Finals and 0-1 in NBA Finals. In deciding games, with his team facing elimination, "Mr Clutch" led the Pacers to a 2-6 mark.

Wednesday I'll check in on the college basketball scene.

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