Thursday, August 2, 2007

UNSTOPPABLE: Stockton And Malone Seek The 2003 NBA Championship

"For any NBA player, the ultimate goal is to win the NBA championship because winning the championship means winning the title of ‘champion.’ ‘Champion’ is the most sought-after title for anyone because the word itself means ‘unstoppable.’"

Karl Malone set the screen, John Stockton hit the game-winning three-point shot at the buzzer, and they were finally on their way. The Utah Jazz had just defeated the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals, advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time ever. Coach Jerry Sloan, referring to then 35-year-old Stockton playing in his 13th season and then 33-year-old Malone playing in his 12th season, commented on how they had done it. “These guys have been criticized the last few years for not getting to where we’re going, but I’ve always said that the most important thing in sports is to keep trying. Let this be an example of what it means to say it’s never over.”

“It’s never over” when you “keep trying,” or in other words when you –never quit. In their quest for the NBA championship, be assured in 2003 that this year’s playoffs are no different from any other –John Stockton and Karl Malone will never quit.

For any NBA player, the ultimate goal is to win the NBA championship because winning the championship means winning the title of ‘champion.’ ‘Champion’ is the most sought-after title for anyone because the word itself means ‘unstoppable.’ Of the 29 league-teams that compete for the championship annually there can only be one team that will win it, only one team that will not be stopped. The 12 players on the team that does win it in that particular year are the only ones who were not stopped. Championship-winning players can claim they are unstoppable for the rest of their lives because they are champions for the rest of their lives. Nothing can ever take that title away from them.

Champion-boxer Muhammad Ali said it best when describing the importance of becoming a champion. “I hated every minute of the training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

John Stockton and Karl Malone too are champions for one simple reason: both are unstoppable.

Before the 1997 NBA Finals, Stockton and Malone had been criticized for not reaching it as Sloan commented. Now, six years later since they lost their first NBA Finals appearance against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1997, and five years later since their second appearance in 1998, they have received criticism for not winning it. Without the championship it seems they are stoppable because they have not won the title of ‘champion.’ However, what their critics fail to realize is Stockton and Malone have not been stopped.

Stockton and Malone have remarkably led the Jazz to the playoffs every season of their careers. Stockton has made 18 consecutive appearances, starting in his rookie season of 1984-85; the Mailman has made 17 straight appearances, beginning with his first season of 1985-86. They hold the record for most playoff appearances without winning a championship. They also hold the record for playing in the most playoff games without winning a championship; Stockton has played in 177 games and Malone has played in 167 games. No other player in NBA history has been to the playoffs as many years or played in as many postseason games without winning the championship as Stockton or the Mailman.

No other player in NBA history has gotten back up as many times either.

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after the fall,” Super Bowl-champion coach Vince Lombardi once said.

That is the “greatest accomplishment” of them all because it is the most difficult of them all. It is easy to get back up when you are winning because you are already up. To get back up when you are down –that is the hard part. To get back up again and again when you are down again and again –that is the hardest part.

Winning is difficult; it only comes to those who perform the “greatest accomplishment.” All of Stockton and Malone’s individual and team successes have resulted from never quitting.

Winning individually, as Jazz fans know, Stockton and Malone have become arguably the greatest players ever to play their positions. Briefly stated, Stockton is arguably the greatest point-guard ever because he is the all-time assist and steals leader. No one else has ever done that. The Mailman is arguably the greatest power-forward ever because he is currently the all-time second-leading scorer. No other forward has ever done that.

Winning as a team, Stockton and Malone have led Utah to become one of the most winning franchises ever. During the Stockton-to-Malone era the Jazz have had 11 seasons of 50 or more wins and three seasons of 60 or more wins. On March 26th of this year when Utah beat the Portland Trailblazers 94-85 (Stockton’s 41st birthday) the Jazz ensured themselves of extending their NBA record of consecutive winning seasons from 17, to 18 with their 42nd win on the year. No other team has ever done that.

All of Stockton and Malone’s future individual and team successes will also result from never quitting. Stockton and Malone can never be stopped because they never quit, and that is why they will win the championship.

Six years later, now 41-year-old Stockton playing in his 19th season and now 39-year-old (40 in July) Malone playing in his 18th season, will again return to this year’s playoffs expecting nothing less than to win the 2003 NBA championship. Of course, eventually the legends themselves will even have to retire from basketball one day (probably when they are 50 years old or so) and when that day does come, they will either have won or not won the championship. Either way, “it’s never over” because nothing can stop John Stockton and Karl Malone from never quitting.

Author: Timothy McGaffin II

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