Checking in with Jeff Malone, the most underrated star in Bullets history

Chase Hughes
NBC Sports Washington

If you grew up in the D.C. area and root for the Wizards, you have likely heard plenty about the dominant Bullets teams of the 1970s with Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier. You probably also know about the Chris Webber-led Bullets of the 90s and how they were broken up far too soon.

You definitely know of the Michael Jordan years, and how fun the Gilbert Arenas era was when he was at his peak. And you of course know about John Wall and Bradley Beal.

But what about the 80s? Nobody seems to talk about the Bullets in the 1980s. And because of that, Jeff Malone never seems to get his due.

Malone was the Bullets star of the 80s. He made two All-Star teams, led the franchise in scoring for the decade and left Washington as the second-leading scorer in franchise history, only behind Hayes.

NBC Sports Washington caught up with Malone this week to find out what he's up to these days and also reflect on his tenure with the Bullets. Turns out Malone is living in Chandler, AZ and is still active in basketball, working camps regularly to teach kids the game and pay it forward. He has also helped run mens leagues and basketball clinics at his local church.

"I'm always around basketball," Malone told NBC Sports Washington. "I enjoy watching the sport, I enjoy teaching the sport when it comes to camps and anything to help out with kids. I like being around people."

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WIZARDS TALK PODCAST

Malone spent years as a coach, some in the International Basketball League, some in what is now known as the G-League and some in the high school ranks. He is not an active coach anymore, and misses it, but still passes on his basketball knowledge at camps and when playing with his grandchildren.

Malone, now 58, played 13 years in the NBA. He was drafted by the Bullets 10th overall in 1983 and by 1986 was an All-Star. He played seven years in Washington before moving on to the Utah Jazz. He also spent time with the Sixers and Heat before calling it a career.

His best years, though, were with the Bullets. He helped lead them to the playoffs in each of his first five years with the team. They just never made it out of the first round, which Malone believes is the primary reason the 80s have become an overshadowed decade for the franchise. History tends to only remember the winners.

"I think when you win that gives you a little bit more notoriety. But it was fun, I loved the city, I really loved playing in the city," Malone said. "We just couldn't get through that gauntlet of the Boston Celtics, the Sixers, the Detroit Pistons. It was tough over there. We always ended up playing one of those teams in the first round."

Indeed, all five of the Bullets' playoff losses with Malone were against those teams. All three teams won championships in the 1980s and they featured all-time greats like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Isiah Thomas.

The Bullets just couldn't get over that hump, always playing second fiddle to teams that are still remembered today for their greatness. But Malone's Bullets still provided their share of moments.

There was Malone's absurdly difficult game-winning three in 1984 against the Pistons, when he leapt out of bounds while launching a shot from the corner. You still see it on countdowns of the best buzzer-beaters in NBA history.

ezgif.com-video-to-gif_53.gif

It's a shot Malone still thinks about today, especially when his young grandson tries to recreate it.

"He tries. He's so little, he acts like he can get it up to the rim. I've had a lot of fun with that," Malone said.

Malone said when he coached in high school his players would often try the shot after practice, but "they never made it." Granted, the degree of difficulty is very high.

"I just had to plant and throw it. When I shot it, I fell and I didn't see it go in. I heard the crowd roar then I got up and saw Jeff Ruland had his hand in the air. That's when I thought 'ooh, I made that,'" Malone said.

Malone recalls fondly his time in Washington; how he played with Moses Malone and Bernard King, how he played for Unseld when he was the team's head coach. Malone remembers sitting down with Unseld at hotels on the road and just listening to his stories.

"Great guy. Tough guy," Malone said of Unseld, who passed away earlier this month. "Wes was a good family guy."

The biggest highlight of his Bullets career, Malone said, was making the All-Star team back-to-back years in 1985-86 and 1986-87. He was teammates with all-time greats like Bird and Michael Jordan in those games.

"I felt like a little kid, man," Malone said. "I wanted to get their autographs, but I was scared to ask the guys."

There are quite a few parallels between Malone and the Wizards' best player now, Bradley Beal. Both are 6-foot-4 shooting guards, two-time All-Stars and known for their scoring. Beal passed Malone for second on the franchise all-time scoring list this season, and Malone took notice.

"I like Brad a lot. I think he's a great two-guard in the league," Malone said. "If he does stay there, he's a piece to a championship puzzle. He seems like a class guy. I don't know him personally, but he seems like he's a class guy. I know you guys are proud to have him on your team."

Malone has kept some connections to his time in Washington. His son, Josh, worked for the Wizards' G-League affiliate last season. And he still keeps up with many of his former Bullets teammates including Harvey Grant, Jeff Ruland, Gus Williams, Darrell Walker and Charles Jones.

Just the other day, he said he watched Game 1 of the 1986 playoff series between the Bullets and Sixers, the game where Dudley Bradley beat the buzzer with a miracle three. 

"I wish we could have at least gotten to an Eastern Conference Finals," he said. "There were some great guys there. We just didn't win enough... We did the best we could."

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Checking in with Jeff Malone, the most underrated star in Bullets history originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

What to Read Next