Skip to main content

The time Hakeem Olajuwon called out Karl Malone for flopping

The two legendary big men got into it a verbal match during the 1997 playoffs.
These two legendary big men were never the ones to back down from conflict.

These two legendary big men were never the ones to back down from conflict.

Although flopping in the NBA has become more frequent and noticeable in the modern NBA, that doesn't mean that those golden days of 80s and 90s basketball didn't have their share of players trying to sell foul calls. Even the most prominent name's in the game would do it, and on a particular night, Hakeem Olajuwon got tired of it while playing Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz.

The 1997 WCF battle

The 1997 Western Conference Finals featured a battle between some veteran super-teams in the likes of the Utah Jazz with Malone and Stockton and the Houston Rockets with Hakeem, Charles, and Drexler. It was the last train for some of these stars to try to get a championship to their name, and it definitely brought out the intensity.

The Jazz would manage to win it in six games, with Malone leading the way, averaging 23.5 ppg and 11.5 rpg, alongside a lot of help from Stockton, who gave them 20.5 ppg, and 10.3 apg. On the other side, at 34 years old, Hakeem was dominating, putting up 27.2 ppg and 9.3 rpg, but Drexler (17.8 ppg) and Barkley (16.2 ppg,11.0 rpg) were already showing signs of slowing down. That brought the Jazz into the Finals versus Jordan and the Bulls, where they couldn't quite manage to get by in consecutive years.

The verbal showdown between Malone and Olajuwon

Of course, as we had some alpha dogs and veteran stars battling deep into the playoffs, it brought the intensity into the game. The best two players in the series, Malone and Hakeem, were in the middle of that narrative.

Olajuwon was the main target of the physical defense of the Jazz, often ending games swollen and in bruises, which led to Hakeem calling out Utah after a game for being dirty:

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

"This team (Utah) is a bunch of pretenders. They want to look like good guys all of the time. They want the NBA and the whole world to believe they are good guys, (Karl) Malone, (John) Stockton, all of them. But the truth is that they are bad guys, very bad guys. This is a dirty team. They do things that are not within the rules - elbows picks where they are trying to hurt you, a lot of stuff like that. The referees don't see a lot of what they do, and they don't call all of the fouls they should."

Hakeem Olajuwon, Orlando Sentinel

We often hear that Stockton and Malone were sneaky dirty players despite being great people off the court, as this is just one of many examples of that. That style embodied the Jazz of the 80s and 90s. The referees were letting them play but calling more whistles for the Jazz, giving them a free-throw advantage.

On the other hand, Malone felt he and his team were just playing hard and earning every call, responding to Hakeem. The fact the Rockets eliminated the Jazz in the two years prior obviously brought even more fuel to the fire between these two teams, with Malone and Hakeem being the advocates.

The two were already into their 30s, but also MVPs of the league not too long before, as that only raised the rivalry. During one point in Game 1, Hakeem would go after Malone mid-game, calling him out for flopping. "The Dream" shared after the game what was said:

"I told him that the MVP of the league must be legitimate. He can't be flopping, looking for fouls. It isn't right. It cheapens the game and it cheapens him. It is not smart basketball and it is not in the rules. That makes it cheating. I told him I can have no respect for that...He is an MVP now. I am an MVP. I told him, 'Welcome to the club. But play in a way I can respect.'"

Hakeem Olajuwon, Orlando Sentinel

Apparently, Malone agreed with Olajuwon in the heat of the moment and laughed it off. It was just a great display of bad blood, rivalry, and respect between some of the best big men the NBA has ever seen. Unfortunately, we could not nee something like this today without players getting technicals or the media making a huge thing out of this interaction.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Remember when KCP played with an ankle monitor?

In terms of serving time, continuing to play games while in prison is not that bad.


Jason Williams shares who is the GOAT between Michael Jordan and LeBron James

The "White Chocolate" thinks one guy is the GOAT, while the other one would be his pick if he has a must-win game.


“As trophies are concerned, that was the highlight of my career.” — the heartwarming story behind Bill Russell's favorite trophy

The NBA will retire the No. 6 league-wide honoring Bill Russell. The story of his favorite trophy makes it clear why he's the first person ever to receive that honor.

Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas and Utah Jazz center Karl Malone

Isiah Thomas on why Karl Malone was the "weak link" of the Utah Jazz

Isiah Thomas was referring to a particular instance when Karl Malone displayed his weakness at the free throw line.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant

“I’m too old for that, man” — when Kobe Bryant gave up on defense during the twilight years of his career

Kobe Bryant once told fans sitting courtside in Madison Square Garden that he just wanted to chill because he was too old to get back on defense.

Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Nea

“I wish I was playing with these buttercups right now. It’ll be a slaughterhouse out there" —Shaquille O'Neal sounds off on today's NBA

According to Shaq, there's an apparent disparity in talent between the past generation and this current one


Rob Pelinka’s big promise to LeBron James as contract extension with the Los Angeles Lakers nears

The Lakers have been a bit trepid about making big roster moves recently, but they appear to have said what they needed to say to keep James in L.A.