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Giants Among Giants

May 10, 2003

The Los Angeles Lakers had Wilt and Kareem. Baseball had Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin. But nothing quite matches the double marathon that ended last month.

The Utah Jazz was just five minutes away from elimination in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, battling the hometown Kings in Sacramento's Arco Arena, where the crowds routinely boo the visitors.

But when the Jazz's John Stockton and Karl Malone walked to the bench, 17,317 Sacramento Kings fanatics stood to cheer in a show of respect for the amazing fact that these two have played together on the same team for 18 years -- and probably would never do so again after that moment.

"It was classy," Malone said later. "We have had a lot of battles with these guys [the Kings] over the years.... It meant a lot to me personally."

Stockton, the 6-foot-1 guard who still wore old-style basketball shorts instead of the long ones, is 41 years old. As anticipated, he said soon afterward that he expected to retire after 19 years with the Jazz.

Malone, a 6-foot-9 forward pushing 40, wants to play another year or two, maybe surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record of 38,387 points and finally winning a championship ring, perhaps with a title contender such as the Lakers. Imagine that.

The names Stockton and Malone run throughout NBA records. Stockton is the all-time leader in steals and assists. Malone's career average is 26 points per game.

More remarkable is that Stockton did not miss a single game in 17 of his 19 seasons, spanning nearly 1,700 matchups.

Malone failed to start in only 15 games of more than 1,600. This is testament to their physical conditioning and work ethic.

They didn't argue with the referees. They didn't engage in histrionics. They didn't face drug or assault charges. They came to work with their lunch pails and did the job. They played a tough, physical game, make no mistake. For fans, it was a marvel to watch.

The Jazz made the playoffs every year of the Stockton-Malone era, the last 15 under Jerry Sloan as head coach. They went to the NBA finals in 1997 and 1998, years when they had the misfortune to play Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

Stockton and Malone will meet again, though -- in the NBA Hall of Fame.

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