We always hear about the tax players had to pay every time they entered the paint “back when basketball was a man’s game.” As boomers use it to hate on the modern NBA, it often sounds like an exaggeration. A duel between Charles Barkley and John Stockton proves it wasn’t an exaggeration at all.
The 1997 Western Conference Finals gave us a matchup loaded with Hall of Famers. The Utah Jazz with John Stockton and Karl Malone on one side, and the Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and new addition Charles Barkley.
The Stockton-Malone pick-and-roll was one of the deadliest plays in NBA history. And while most of the time Malone was the one setting the pick, the roles were sometimes reversed. Stockton would run into the paint and set a screen for Malone - meaning he would take some punishment from the guy protecting Malone. Obviously, that would usually be the strongest, meanest guy the opposition had on their team.
To avoid unnecessary pain and punishment, Stockton would often get in the way but not set a proper screen. That’s a violation of rules but often isn’t called when a smaller player is the one setting the moving screen. Barkley complained about it in Game 1, and when he saw the refs weren’t calling it, he took action into his own hands in Game 2.
Obviously, the refs not gonna do their jobs. They're gonna let them set moving picks, so I was trying to separate his [Stockton's] shoulder or break a rib.
At this point, all the reporters started laughing, thinking this was Chuck being Chuck. But with a straight face and a cold stare, Barkley let everyone know he means business. “I was serious.”
The first two times, Barkley got called for a foul - the second one was deemed to be flagrant. But in the end, his strategy worked. Later in the game, Stockton was called for a moving screen, and Barkley rubbed it in everyone’s face in Utah.
”That’s why we lift weights“
This clip reminded me of a time we still had legit rivalries in the NBA. Players didn’t jump teams as much, there was time for animosities to develop, and it provided for extra flair.
“I LIKE IT! You wanna bang, let's bang. That's why we lift weights every day, so we'd be able to bang.”
The 90s had the perfect balance of physicality and game. It wasn’t like the 70s and 80s, where fistfights would happen more often than not. And it sure as hell wasn’t as the modern NBA. You had guys like Carr inviting the challenge and veterans like Malone making sure everyone understands they can’t let physicality become brutality.
“The worst thing you could do is to look back on this season or this series and say ”If I wouldn't did something silly, maybe it would've been a different outcome.” We're not gonna be caught up in it.“
Watching this clip makes you appreciate John Stockton’s insane longevity even more. A 6’1” 170lbs guy who played 82 games in 16 out of the 19 seasons he spent in the NBA in some of the most physical eras of basketball to date.