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Sour coda for a sweet Jazz combo
Posted: Wed June 10, 1998
Traditionally, nobody much cares about pairs in sports. Doubles tennis and couples in figure skating are lounge acts for the singlesthe real championships. And, oh sure, every now and then we get a couple stars on the same team and we nickname them the "Touchdown Twins" or the "Dynamic Duo" or something like that, but, anyway, they seldom last long together. Ruth and Gehrig are the exception that proves the rule.
The answer is a resounding yes ... and no. Yes, there never has been any two guys linked quite like them before, but no: so what if they can't win a championship? And if they don't revive themselves and inspire their teammates after Sunday's pathetic rout by the Bulls and Mr. Jordan, then Stockton and Malone will simply end up a nice historical sideshow curiosity, the world's tallest midgets.
There was one other notable NBA pair Elgin Baylor and Jerry West of the 1960s Lakers. Baylor and West didn't complement each other quite like Stockton and Malone, who are joined at the basketball hip. Rather, the Lakers were more what we like to call "a one-two punch," but, notwithstanding, they were fantastic comrades.
It is instructive, however, that Baylor and West could never win a championship together. As Malone and Stockton can't beat the Bulls, West and Baylor could not beat the Celtics. Finallyand this is as ironically tragic as it gets in sportin the fall of 1971, Baylor, 37 years old, was removed from the staring lineup and retired. That night the Lakers won, the first of 33 games in a row, a record still, and from there took the only championship Jerry West ever earned as a player.
This is not to say that teams with two great players can't win. On the contraryrarely does an NBA team win a championship without two dominant players. Certainly, one could even argue, the Bulls themselves boast that with Jordan and Scottie Pippen ... but, come on, nobody shares billing with Jordan; he and Pippen are more Batman and Robin.
What is true, though, is that no great pair has ever played together for so long14 seasonsin such a perfectly complementary fashion as have Malone and Stockton. They are an odd couple, tooMalone, "The Mailman," so-called, a conservative black man who enjoys trucks and country music; and Stockton, the creative little white guy, who for all that he gives on the court is withdrawn and unrevealing off.
Who knows? Maybe if you are always part of an act, you become almost subconsciously deferential, unable to selfishly dominate in the crunch in the manner required of majesty. Or maybe it's simply that West and Baylor were unlucky that they had to come up against Bill Russell and the Celtics, just as Malone and Stockton must play Jordan and the Bulls. Whatever, the lesson could be that one fantastic ace trumps two merely great players and the sad fact is that unless Malone and Stockton re-establish themselves tonight and in the rest of this series, they will be remembered most as a very low pairjust a couple of deuces or treys.
These commentaries, which appear each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, are posted weekly by CNN/SI.
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