Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Didn't you hear? It's second-tier year at the Hall of Fame. By the time September rolls around, and Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen are actually inducted, David Stern and coach Mike Krzyzewski and the whole iHoops crew will likely have that idea trademarked and we'll have to capitalize the line.

Second-Tier Year at the Hall of Fame. With the earnest helpers of Michael Jordan and John Stockton heading into the Hall a year after the real swingers got the call.

Complete and utter bollocks. Because these two are second to none.

Pippen is often referred to as this game's finest second banana. The man who completed Michael Jordan. The man who was nothing, really, without Michael Jordan. Especially when you consider those famous 1.8 seconds.

Karl Malone? He may have scored all those points, but it was really Stockton heading the show, bringing Jerry Sloan's vision to life. Karl was just the recipient of all those passes. The guy that's into chicken baby.

Nonsense, as previously stated. These men are absolute titans. Pippen might be the finest all-around defender the NBA has ever seen. Malone merely the best player to play his position in this game's history.

No hyperbole. Not with these two.

There are no over-the-top stats for Pippen, though those routine 20-7-7 nights with the Bulls didn't hurt. Offensively, he was often the most important and crucial player in a typical Chicago possession, setting everything up without earning an assist, a point or a plaudit.

As someone who had a pretty deep-seated rooting interest during Pippen's time with the Bulls, allow me to boil it down to something rather definitive: I yelled, angrily, at Michael Jordan during those years. Was not happy with his decisions, at times. At many, many times.

I didn't really yell at Pippen. He was the guy that seemed to be doing everything right. All the time, always a step ahead.

Malone's the best power forward to play the game. Bob Pettit's not far off and Kevin Garnett could enter into the mix once we get another year or two and factor in all that defense. But Tim Duncan is a center and Malone's the best ever. You get five positions in a basketball game, and Malone was tops all time at one of them. Try sneezing at that.

Pippen, defensively, changed things. Absolutely took teams out of their offense, as a perimeter defender, and you just don't get that. That's just a function of the game, especially at the pro level, where players are pretty damn good. The big guys change things, the perimeter guys just sort of annoy.

Scottie annoyed, but he also changed things. Forced teams into breaking plays. Worked to the absolute limit of the NBA's no-zone policy (both before strong-side zones were legalized before 1999-00 and before all-out zoning was legalized before 2001-02), but always got back to his man. Chased the ball, dominated the other side.

Pippen covered huge scads of court without the luxury of some all-world defensive center watching his back. That's important because big men were important. Because Bill Cartwright wasn't watching Scottie's back. He was watching his man, always, because Bill just wasn't a shot-blocker or help guy by the time he got to the Bulls. And Luc Longley was usually watching his shoelaces, trying to avoid another accident.

Along the same lines, Malone never had any help from his front-court mates. Because the pickings at center were so slim for so many years in Utah, Malone was always guarded by the other team's best big defender, be he a power forward or center. And it rarely mattered. Inside, outside. In the post, in a pinch, in the pinch-post or off a pass. Malone just gave teams 25. Usually more.

They had help, to be sure. Jordan absolutely and utterly whipped Pippen into shape. Early on -- picking apart the shy Arkansas project -- and during the title years. Molded him in his own image. Had him eating egg whites and lifting weights at 8 in the morning on the days of practices, shootarounds and games.

Jordan also gave Pippen the leadership reins once the rings started pouring in. Jordan tormented the Bulls with nasty glares, with furrowed brows. It was Scottie that went over and explained how the play went wrong while the nervous teammates clutched at their shorts during a dead ball. M.J. had everyone on edge, but that was Scottie's team. He made it a team, both in the plays and between the plays.

Malone never won a ring, zero to Pippen's six, but he had a Jazz team in the absolute thick of things for more than a decade. Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are closing in on that sort of run at this point, but from 1988 to 2000 the Jazz were consistent championship threats. That's because they had this giant, this monster on both ends, to rely on.

This impossibly skilled power forward entered the league as nothing more than a project and worked his way toward become one of the game's more refined players. That's all from effort. And he didn't exactly have a Michael Jordan glaring at him. Karl Malone set his own alarm.

They'll hit the Hall of Fame in September, and we'll have more wonderful things to say about this duo (and the other inductees) then.

But until then, understand that in the year that followed the induction of Jordan, Stockton, David Robinson and Jerry Sloan, a group headed by Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen is no step backward.

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