Karl Malone’s insistence he has the «utmost respect» for Michael Jordan did little to hide the tension that seemingly still exists between the ex-NBA stars.
Jordan and the great Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s were the subject of the co-produced ESPN and Netflix docuseries ‘The Last Dance’.
The Bulls’ rivalry with Malone’s Utah Jazz in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals series were pivotal in the latter episodes.
Malone refused to be a part of the show but ESPN released previously unseen footage of him talking about Jordan and playing the Bulls at that time from an interview in February 2019.
Asked his reaction when he heard the name «Michael Jordan», Malone – smoking a cigar – replied tersely: «Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan…what else do I need to say?»
Malone was then questioned more specifically on the famous moment of Game 6 of the ’98 Finals when Jordan stole the ball from Malone before going on to hit the game-winning shot that secured a second three-peat in the space of eight years.
«Why? Why do I have to?» Malone answered.
«But I tell you this, I’ll all man and I accept the responsibility for not winning one [a championship].
«And we was there, we just happened to be playing the Chicago Bulls, which wasn’t just Michael Jordan by the way and I have the utmost respect for Michael.
«But I never thought I was playing Michael Jordan, I was playing the Chicago Bulls but let’s not…you know, everybody say this person was a bad man and all of that. Well, yes, I give them respect but I’ve got a setup. I’m a man, and I was a bad son of a b****, too.
«So that’s how I look at that, and that’s who I am. Maybe in my older years I can call it that bluntly but I’m just calling it like I see it.»
In the show, Jordan says how he was fired up ahead of the ’97 Finals after Malone received the NBA MVP award in the regular season.
While the series has received critical acclaim, some involved have been disapproving of the way events have been portrayed and questioned the involvement of Jordan’s production company.
Ex-Bulls star Horace Grant branded Jordan a liar when he accused his former team-mate of being a source for Sam Smith’s book ‘The Jordan Rules’, which paints the Hall of Famer in an unflattering light.
Scottie Pippen, who was beside Jordan for each of the Bulls’ six championships in the eight-year span, was another ex-player to appear in the documentary who was supposedly unhappy with his portrayal.
In one episode, Jordan said Pippen was «selfish» over his decision to delay foot surgery that saw him miss the start of the 1997-98 season.