Not one serious list of the best duos in NBA history can pass without John Stockton and Karl Malone in it. The only reason why they aren’t ranked higher is that something is missing on their fingers. The famous Utah Jazz duo didn’t win a title, but they were still a nightmare to all opponents and truly historical figures in NBA history.
Stockton was selected in 1984/85, one year before Malone, so they’ve got to know each other early into their NBA careers. That worked out very well since they’ve clicked immediately. Stockton’s playmaking ability, court awareness, and pass-first mentality, along with Malone’s finishing around the rim and mid-range jumper, led the Jazz to their best results in franchise history. Stockton and Malone led Utah to the NBA finals twice, but the Chicago Bulls ended their title hopes on both occasions.
However, the chemistry and partnership between Stockton and Malone were unmatched. They’ve always had each other’s back, and Malone spoke about it on the Knuckleheads podcast when he remembered Chris Webber, who wanted to go after Stockton in one of their games. He didn't even care about the actual play but wanted to hit Stockton intentionally, which naturally didn't sit really well with Malone.
"I love Chris Webber, but this was one time where I wanted to kick his ass. Right? So we had been wearing them out – at home – and Chris Webber started at half court looking for John Stockton. On the flip side, I say 'Good on you Chris, for studying the playbook.' And we ran that four up and he didn't even care. He hit Stockton right in the sternum with his elbow. I damn near felt it and [it] hurt. ...I felt so bad I went over to Coach [Jerry] Sloan and I said, 'Coach, don't run that again, please.' Stock[ton] looked at me and said 'No, I'm good' and the next play– well, you know."
Karl Malone, The Knuckleheads
That’s the other thing about Stockton and Malone – they were just tough and resilient. Being durable in the NBA isn’t easy: training schedule, back-to-back games, road trips, 82 games plus the playoffs, all the things that wear down the players’ bodies. But Stockton and Malone played through fatigue and pain. Stockton played 17 full seasons in his 19-year career; he only missed 22 games in 18 seasons. Malone had similar numbers; he played under 80 games in only two seasons in his 19-year career.