Ring Chasers: Karl Malone, the Lakers, and the Glory That Never Happened

Karl Malone is one of the greats who failed to get his ring.

Despite being one of the -if not- best power forwards in the 90s, Karl Malone never won a championship title.

He’s a 14-time NBA All-Star, 14-time All-NBA, 4-time All-Defensive, and 2-time NBA MVP.

But the guy never got a ring.

One of the reasons why is that he played during an era that was dominated by Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Malone, however, did come close on multiple occasions.

In 91-92, the Jazz made it to the Conference Finals, but they were beaten by the Portland Trailblazers.

Then in 92-93, they made it back to the Conference Finals but were defeated by the Houston Rockets.

A few years later, in 95-96, they made it back to the Conference Finals again, but this time was defeated by the Seattle Supersonics.

Karl Malone Competes in his First NBA Finals

Malone wouldn’t get his chance to compete in the Finals until he was 33 years old.

It was 1996-97 and the Jazz went up against the Chicago Bulls.

This was the year that he was dubbed league MVP. He was playing well throughout the entire playoffs, averaging 26.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals.

But his efforts weren’t enough.

Michael Jordan and the Bulls proved to be too strong and defeated them 4-2.

But Malone still had a lot of juice in him and didn’t give up. He fought the following season and got another chance at the championship title.

And despite having a fantastic postseason again, where he averaged 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1 block, the results were exactly the same as the previous year’s Finals.

The Bulls beat them 4-2 and Jordan completed his second 3-peat.

The Beginning of the End for Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz

Malone stuck it out with the Jazz for a few more seasons and continued to play well.

He continued to be a perennial All-Star and was voted onto the All-NBA team.

But the Jazz weren’t winning in the playoffs.

So, when his contract ended in 2003 and he was on the cusp of turning 40, he decided to leave the team that drafted him and try his hand at winning a championship ring.

Karl Malone Joins the Lakers in Hopes of Getting a Ring

He and Gary Payton –who had plans to play with each other- joined the 3-peat Lakers in hopes of helping them win a title.

According to Payton, who was on the “All the Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, Magic Johnson recruited the two players when they became free agents in 2003.

“The way we got to LA is because me and Karl had planned already to play with each other. We had been talking ’bout that for two All-Star [games].

“And we said we knew that we wasn’t gonna be with our same teams for a long period of time because our owners was a little bit different, and they were trying to stray away from us a little bit. They wanted to go young. So he always told me, ‘we gonna play together,’” Payton said.

“When we became free agents, and then all of a sudden Magic started calling us, and saying that the Lakers wanted us… Karl called me and said ‘I wanna go to LA… Let’s enjoy ourselves at the end of our careers and do what we do…’ And that’s what we did.”

However, despite having a super team and dominating the Western Conference in the postseason, the Lakers failed to beat the underdog Detroit Pistons.

As a matter of fact, the Pistons wiped the floor with the Lakers, winning the series 4-1.

Many believe that one of the reasons why the Lakers lost is because of injuries and personal life getting in the way of basketball.

And I can see why.

Malone only played 40 games in the regular season and missed a crucial game in the Finals.

Shaquille O’Neal also missed a lot of games due to injuries.

Kobe Bryant was dealing with some personal issues and this most likely affected his headspace and relationship with his teammates.

You put all of these ingredients together and failure is bound to happen.


After this season, Malone retired from the NBA.

But despite not getting his ring, he still did have a great career -good enough for him to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and to be part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

His no. 32 jersey is also retired by the Jazz.