Throughout NBA history there have been many famous nicknames, but one of the most memorable is Karl Malone’s who has been known as the “Mailman”.
He earned his nickname ever since his college days in the early 1980s at Louisiana Tech University, where he’s remembered to have “always delivered” on the hardwood. The same proved to be true after the Utah Jazz selected the 6-foot-9 power forward with the 13th overall pick in the 1985 draft. In 19 NBA seasons, Malone always seemed to deliver, while notching 14 All-Star Game appearances, 11 All-NBA First Team selections, two NBA MVP awards, and 36,928 career points ranking him second on the league’s all-time scoring list behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But on one night he “failed to deliver”. It was Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. In a tight Finals opener, with 9.2 seconds left, the game was tied at 82 after Michael Jordan made one of his two free throws. Dennis Rodman fouled Malone on a loose-ball rebound, sending the 1997 league MVP to the free-throw line with a chance to give Utah the lead.
Even before Malone stepped on the line, Pippen approached him trying to get to his head. As Pippen himself said: “I just kind of whispered in his ear that the Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sunday,” Before those free throws Malone was 3 out of 4 from the line, but when he rose for his first free throw he missed. Malone exclaimed after the ball rimmed out left. He then stepped into the backcourt to clear his thoughts. But it didn’t help much as he missed the second free throw also, giving the Bulls the ball with 7.5 seconds left and the game tied.
And the rest was history. Jordan hit a 20-foot buzzer-beating jumper over Bryon Russell to win the game 82-84. It wasn’t worth much that Malone played the game with an open sore in his right shooting hand, as the unsung hero of the night was Scottie Pippen who completely iced Malone, as the Mailman succumbed under pressure. That loss seemed to be crucial as the Bulls went on to win the Finals 4-2, with Michael Jordan winning MVP.