End of an Era
Longtime Utah Jazz great Karl Malone announced his retirement Sunday after 19 NBA seasons, the first 18 with the Jazz and the 19th and last with the Los Angeles Lakers, spent trying to wring a championship out of the league he excelled in for so long. Malone will retire as the league's second all-time leading scorer and with two NBA MVP awards to his name
Also announcing his retirement this week -- effective at the end of the season, was Indiana Pacers great Reggie Miller -- who will retire as the league's all-time leader in three pointers made and attempted.
Both players occupy a special place in my heart. Malone was my first ever Favorite NBA Player; growing up in Minnesota before the Timberwolves came into being, young sports fans had the luxury of choosing any NBA team and player we wanted, and I chose Malone, probably more as a result of process of elimination than anything else. Larry Bird was too obvious, Michael Jordan was too easy, Charles Barkley was too mean, Magic Johnson seemed a little too ambitious (he was so Hollywood, and we were just simple Midwestern folk), Dominique Wilkins was all show, my friend Tom had already claimed Patrick Ewing... so, Karl Malone it was. Even when the Timberwolves finally came along, Tyrone Corbin and Tony Campbell didn't quite cut it compared to the Mailman.
Miller, by contrast, made me a fan by constantly thwarting the efforts of Tom's boy Ewing and his New York Knicks, which delighted my friends and I to no end (not that we ever needed an excuse to give Tom crap, but, we seized on them when they came along).
So I'll be sad to see Miller and Malone go, to the extent that I notice it at all (I barely watch any regular-season NBA basketball; never really have).
It's hard for even the most casual NBA fan (and that's what I consider myself: one of the most causal NBA fans) not to notice a striking similarity between Miller and Malone: as great as they were, neither of them ever won an NBA championship (Miller still has a slim, slim chance, but his Pacers are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference and, at present, unlikely to content for a title this year).
Both came close, of course, but both had what where arguably their best hopes to win a title dashed by none other than Michael Jordan. And that's the era that's coming to an end, in my mind; Malone and Miller are the last of the NBA greats to retire without ever winning a championship mainly to to the efforts of His Airness. It's an impressive list, filled with some great players; Malone, Miller, Barkley, Ewing, Wilkins, Gary Payton, the Cleveland Cavaliers... all ringless, all (to some degree) because of Michael.
There will surely be other NBA greats who go their entire careers without ever winning a title (Allen Iverson, anyone?), but it's a testament (as if another were needed) to Jordan's ability that he left such a path of title-deprived all-time greats in his wake. With the retirements of Karl Malone and Reggie Miller, Jordan's dominance -- never in doubt while he played -- is becoming ever more apparent in comparison with those NBA greats who had the misfortune to share the primes of their careers with him.