Their place in history is secure.
Just because the Utah Jazz lost at home to Chicago 87-86 and watched the Bulls celebrate their sixth championship this decade, the Jazz displayed amazing resiliency. Stockton (10 points, five assists) and Malone (31 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) were brilliant in Game 6. They merely succumbed to a higher power: Michael Jordan (45 points).
"Without a doubt, I'm disappointed," Malone said. "We fought hard. It's a tough loss for us."
Said Stockton: "As you might expect, I'm not real open with my emotions. It's not a pleasurable experience, I can assure you that. We put a lot of work in to get this far."
Yeah, Stockton and Malone struggled at times in the Finals. Let's give some credit to the Bulls' defense.
In the Jordan era, the Bulls have frustrated plenty of other All-Star caliber players in the playoffs like Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Patrick Ewing,Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley. All five of those players are still searching for their first championship.
Despite the outcome, Stockton and Malone have nothing to be ashamed of.
Could they have done more? Should they have done more?
To win a championship, you need production from everyone. They didn't get quite enough to defeat the Bulls.
"I think our guys have done a pretty good job," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I don't know how other people look at it. Our team has played pretty well to try to get to this spot. I thought we had moments where we really had to stay together. I think we did that."
The Bulls sure did. Jordan and Scottie Pippen relied on role players like Steve Kerr, Ron Harper
and Luc Longley to contribute all season. When M.J. and Pippen have to carry the Bulls by themselves, they tend to stagger. Not in Game 6. Not with a sixth championship at stake.
Jordan is the greatest player of all time and can do it by himself. But with Utah's deliberate style, Stockton and Malone need their teammates t come through. If players like Bryon Russell, Greg Foster and Howard Eisley aren't doing anything, the Bulls can really concentrate on Stockton and Malone.
Stockton is 36, Malone will soon be 35, but this doesn't necessarily mean the Jazz can't reach the Finals led by this duo next year. Or the year after that.
"People can say what they want about how old I am, they can remind me as much as they want," Malone said. "The point is I feel great. That's all that's important."
Stockton and Malone have played 284 playoff games combined with the Jazz. So what if they haven't won a championship yet.
Is Ernie Banks considered a failure because he never won a World Series? Is Ray Bourque considered a failure because he hasn't won a Stanley Cup? Is Dan Marino considered a failure because he hasn't won a Super Bowl?
No, no and no.
Every team that loses a world championship wonders if they could have done anything differently. What if they had gotten that key fumble, executed that sacrifice bunt or picked up that key loose ball? In the end, the stronger team usually wins, especially in the NBA Finals.
"I'm not a quitter," Malone said. "I've just got to get away from this for a little while."
Even if Stockton and Malone eventually wind up retiring without that coveted ring, they should be remembered simply like this -- as champions.
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