- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

Karl Malone and John Stockton have not gone away.

They play as hard as ever, and almost as well, and that speaks of their professional integrity.

They are no longer fashionable, if they ever were, and they have become almost afterthoughts in the do-rag age of the NBA. They play a blue-collar style of basketball, close to the floor, no wasted motions, predicated on timing, cuts to the basket, reading the defense and passing.

This is not highlight material. This is just basketball the way it was and the way it can be.

Stockton is 38, Malone 37, and their window of opportunity to claim a championship is believed to be closed, and maybe it is, and maybe the absence of a championship reveals the depth of their basketball character.

You knock them down. They get back up. You tell them they can't do something and they set out to show you otherwise. They led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, past their so-called prime, and now, long past it, they are fighting to the finish.

There is something worthy in the fight, something that all too often gets overlooked amid the hype and flash of the NBA.

Malone and Stockton are old school, and old news, and in the NBA's rush to anoint the new flavor of the moment, they are almost guilty of having been on the stage too long.

Stockton and Malone prompt as many Al Gore-like sighs among the NBA faithful as they do words of respect. But that's all right with them. You don't play as long as they have in an out-of-the-way market and worry if others recognize your tenacity.

The Jazz are 3-0 this season, and it is way too early to be excited or concerned by this or that outcome, but, as usual, Stockton and Malone are doing much of the heavy lifting in Utah, refusing to acquiesce to the ravages of time.

They are freaks in a way, pushing the boundaries of age. They aren't merely hanging around, trying to prod another season from their bodies. They are still playing the game at a remarkably high level.

Malone remains as good as any power forward in the NBA, in pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring mark, and Stockton has replaced his lost step with guile and moxie.

So they do not have a championship. So this perceived flaw probably will follow them into the Hall of Fame.

So.

The absence of a championship is what eventually contributed to Patrick Ewing's exit in New York, and it dogged Charles Barkley in the last few seasons of his career.

A championship is not an unimportant measure of a great player, but it is also overstated.

It was Scottie Pippen's good fortune to be traded from the Sonics to the Bulls on draft night in 1987. It was Ewing's misfortune to have a shooting guard, John Starks, go 2-for-18 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1994.

Most players, even great ones, are in part dependent on the circumstances around them, from teammates to coaches to those in charge of landing complementary personnel.

The Jazz, since the advent of the Stockton-Malone era, have been cursed by the center position, starting with the lumbering Mark Eaton in the '80s to the suspect named Olden Polynice employed there now.

Polynice apparently is an improvement over Greg Ostertag, but you are obligated to take Jerry Sloan's word on it.

Malone and Stockton would be the last to seek cover in the center position. They take the hits, the knocks and the sighs, and then they lace up their sneakers and battle anew. They earn their money, which is kind of an old-fashioned concept in professional sports, and leave it at that.

You don't have to like their pugnacious manner. You don't have to like their low-wire game or their monotonous consistency. You don't have to like their lack of flair.

But you are missing a larger truth, a higher standard, a nobility of sorts that contrasts sharply with so much of the music-video junk around the NBA.

Malone and Stockton are professionals, competitors, marvelous relics from yesteryear.

Even at this late date in their careers, they remain committed to the game, and the game is better because of it.

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