Isiah On Open Court: Malone Utah’s ‘Weakest Link’; Regrets ’91 Walk-Off

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When you spend the bulk of your life pursuing and achieving the excellence that Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas has, you tend to spare yourself the agony of looking back, second guessing or worrying about the sensibilities you might have offended along the way. Winning championships at every level affords you that luxury.

But Thomas, an NBA TV analyst these days, decided to look back a little anyway when he hit the couch next to TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and a cast of other TNT and NBA TV personalities.

Isiah didn’t hold back during shooting for the premiere of the critically acclaimed show’s third season (it will air on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. ET on NBA TV) . In fact, he made sure “Open Court” will get off to an explosive start when he identified his former rival and fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone as the man who cost the Utah Jazz a title.

“I thought Utah, going back to that team, I thought they had everything it took to win a championship,” he said. “They had the system, the players, the toughness, they were defensive-minded and everything. I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter they would have beat Chicago.”

When pressed by Johnson about using the term “weak link” in regards to Malone, Thomas didn’t flinch.

“That’s a weak link, because at the end of a game when you are playing at that level, you come down to the last 30 seconds or the last minute of the game, if that guy can’t make fouls shots then he’s the weak link. He’s the guy that you are fouling, the guy you want to put on the line. You’re not fouling [John] Stockton. You’re not putting him on the line, you’re not letting him take the shot. Everything is going to Malone. I thought Malone’s inability to hit free throws is what stopped them from winning a championship.”

Thomas expressed regret for not handling things better against Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons were swept at home in that series and infamously marched off the floor without shaking hands with the Bulls, a move that sparked a decades-long feud between stars on both sides — most notably Thomas and Jordan.

Ernie Johnson asked if Thomas wishes he’d have handled it differently. The response was immediate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “… looking back, we all should have taken the high road.”

But in the heat of the moment, and with what he called Chicago’s posturing in the media leading up to Game 4, Thomas said the walk-off was orchestrated because he didn’t feel the Pistons were being afforded the respect befitting two-time champions.

Don’t miss all that and more on the Oct. 8 premiere of “Open Court” on NBA TV (6 p.m. ET).


  1. site says:

    And which option is more likely to lead to work and decent pay?
    I would prefer furniture production but perhaps carpentry or joinery is a slightly safer bet?.

  2. Ladyshakalaka says:

    This is addressed to Kobe Fan- Kobe played against Michael Jordan how can he be the Jordan of this time? Kobe copied every one of Jordan’s moves- He was never Kobe he has always been Jordan wannabe! He is also a inasmuch person just like Jordan! Lebron James is Lebron James- He is not Magic Johnson because Lebron is much more atheletic than Magic ever was!

  3. 70's kid says:

    if i remember it right, game 1 malone missed 2 freethrows that should’ve sealed the win with the score tied at 82. he missed them both. pippen psyched him that the mailman does’nt delivered on sundays 🙂 and the bulls had the opportunity to nail it with jordan hitting the game winner. boom!

  4. ken says:

    There’s a bit of truth behind Thomas’ comment about Malone. As great as he was his free throws were a slight problem. Despite being the all time leader in attempts and makes if he shot just a small amount better teams would have sent him to the line less frequently.

  5. Bballfanforlife says:

    Go MJ best ever

  6. Bballfanforlife says:

    Go MJ

  7. Anthony says:

    He is just saying what everybody was thinking….I’m glad they walked off it just added to the intensity and excitement of that rivalry

  8. Darius says:

    What i dont get is people coming on here going off on Thomas and defending Malone like Malone is the greatest player ever loool, Isiah was Amazing easliy one of the best all time lool and he win RINGS this guy is the reason we have players like Chris Paul, Nate Robinson Etc all heart and grit, plus pure skill, get the hell outta here about Zeke is a B**** lol fools

  9. Paul says:

    Isiah is hated here in Chicago and always has been even before that incident. When he chose to go to Indiana and the despised Bobby Knight it was all over. That incident was just icing on the cake…He’s a bum…

  10. LemW says:

    Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan, like many were competitors. Michael won most battles and Isiah was a worthy opponent. Very few are worthy opponents. Michael Jordan was 93% and Isiah Thomas 90%, that 3% difference to translates into a $500,000,000.00 for Michael. Isiah is saying it is ONLY 3%.

  11. European says:

    Americans have no manners, how can they even know what the hand shaking is?!

  12. Gary says:

    Malone was a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a 14-time NBA All-Star, and an 11-time member of the All-NBA first team. He scored the second most career points in NBA history (36,928), and holds the records for most free throws attempted and made. He is considered one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history.

    Enough said.

  13. Jerry S says:

    Isiah said “weak link” but the word “liability” might have been a better word to go with. Either way, he explained what he meant and he was correct that Karl Malone did miss key free throws.

  14. ImJusSayin says:

    Weakest link was not Karl! It was the ref’s refusing to call the offensive fouls on Jordan using the off hand to clear the D.

  15. Jweber says:

    Are you serious? No Barkley for this episode of Open Court? what are they thinking??!!

  16. I agree that Isiah Thomas ( ) was a great player and one of the best little men of the league, but he always had a grudge against players who were better than he was (Freezing out MJ at the 85 Allstar Game, saying Larry Bird would just be an average black player, not shaking the Bulls’ hands, …)

    He was great, but needs to let bygones be bygones (jumping into Malone’s outstretched elbow)

  17. Kobe Fan says:

    At least he is the second all time scorer in NBA. Respect Isiah Tomas’ opinion.

  18. bodjee says:

    I wonder how he feels about being omitted from the original dream-team to make space for an ailing Magic. A lot of us believe at that time that there couldn’t have been a dream-team without Isiah as its point guard. It just didn’t feel right. Instead of trying to compare MJ to KB or LB, we should compare his game to IT, JS and the other guys of his eras.

  19. ball don*t lie says:

    let’s have him talk about bobby knight. he was the only guy I know that could deal with knight’s aggression.

  20. NyK says:

    Without the Mailman they would not have been in the finals. Missed free throws cost them heavily, but if he was a poor shooter from the line is it his fault for missing them or the coaches/teams fault for putting the ball in his hands late in the game? I think it’s unfair to suggest he was the weak link and the sole reason Utah did not win a championship.

  21. CEO says:

    My biggest pet peeve is when people misunderstand some1 comments. He said karl malone was the weakest link as far as shooting free throws not the weakest link on the team so when people say the jazz would have not been their without him doesnt have nothing to do with him shooting poor freethrows when it counts. Like shaq is a weak link when it comes to shooting freethrows.

  22. Ray says:

    Lebron or Jordan DID NOT have any better center and Rodman and Horace were forwards.

  23. Tihi says:

    Thomas is a bitter little man with a grudge. Malone did miss free throws in the Finals, but to call him weak link?
    We all remember Shaq? Wilt? They were waaaaaay worse free throw shooters than Karl. Were they weakest links of their teams? Is LeBron Miami’s weakest link? Because his FT shooting is similar to Malone’s.

    • Steve says:

      Yes! Going down the stretch with the Lakers Shaq was the weak link. Shaq was not the closer, Kobe is the closer and without Kobe or Dwade in Miami Shaq would be ringless

  24. Sam says:

    Isiah Thomas…once a b*tch, always a b*tch.

  25. Isiah Thomas is right .. Of course Malone was the MVP of his team and at times, of the NBA .. but he did choke at times during the NBA Finals .. It is not that he shot 75% during the season … it is that he did not make the free throws that the Jazz HAD to have .. and that is why he got fouled .. He had that reputation …… Thomas nailed it .. Just telling the truth .. I mean … Thomas ate some crow by saying he should never have walked off the court early vs the Bulls in 1991 ..

    • stanfunky says:

      Go back and look at Isiah’s FT% for his career. He has no room to talk about Malone having a low FT when his is absurdly low for a point guard (75%). And Malone’s FT weren’t the crucial issue in the series losses to the Bulls in 1997 and 1998, it was miscues in other ways that cost the Jazz, usually turnovers at inopportune times, or poor defense switching. Not to mention Rodman’s 14 fouls per game that weren’t called in that series.

  26. zulu says:

    Can’t wait to see one of the best ever to play the game on Open Court.

  27. MarkJ says:

    His argument really doesn’t hold water when you look at the 3 consecutive championships the Lakers won with Shaq as their go to guy. Shaq couldn’t even hit non-clutch free throws most of the time and Malone had a 74% career FT average.

  28. I think Karl’s done his part in trying to win every game against the Bulls. One of the all-time great power forwards to have ever play the game….. it’s just too much Michael Jordan in those games they lost…

  29. Dre says:

    Isiah had a great career on the court. But was a weak link in basketball after his career. TNT might want to watch out cus he might get them thrown off the air.

  30. Hilo Dan says:

    Isiah is a whiner and a sleazeball. His behavior as a Piston and as a Knick executive should bar him for life from any meaningful input on basketball at any level. I would never allow any child of mine to attend any college which would hire him. He’s living proof that a talented athlete can be a totally vile human being.

  31. slider821 says:

    i agree with what isiah is trying to say but you cant have your cake and eat it too everytime. he was weak in that regard but would the jazz have gotten anywhere without him? ie who at his salary would have gotten them farther? you can name a few but despite Malones shortcomings (the line, techs, etc) he was still one of the best you could have at that position.

    • Carl says:

      I agree. I think Malone is one of the best period! Jazz wouldn’t have gotten very far with out him. All the Jazz needed was a decent center.

      • JBR says:

        The centres the Jazz had were not much worse than the ones the Bulls had. Not enough to be a deciding factor, anyway.

        Besides, the Jazz had an elite point guard, while the Bulls barely had anything that could even be called a point guard on their roster, so it balances out 🙂

      • Ray says:

        Lebron or Jordan have any better of a center than Utah! Isiah is correct Malone in crunch time missed to frequently like Duncan, Howard, and even Lebron! Utah simply choked to many times!

  32. TrueNBAFan says:

    The guy’s just complaining because of the hard elbow Malone gave him.

  33. Isiah Thomas is wrong in saying that Karl Malone ( ) was the weakest link of the Jazz teams. I mean, he was a 2-time MVP and if he weren’t on that team, they would not even have made the playoffs. Isiah is just mad he jumped into Malone’s elbow in ’92.

    • Paul says:

      The jazz wouldn’t have gotten to the finals without Malone. But then it was Malone’s inability to hit clutch freethrows that costed them. So it goes both ways, and at the end of the day, its not that Malone got them past the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, round. But that he couldn’t get them win the finals.

      • Paul, I think you mean “cost them.” As for Karl Malone’s free throw shooting, he was actually pretty good. I don’t think the Jazz had a weak link, they were tops, the Bulls were just too good.

    • Ray says:

      Man you are very wrong about Isiah jumping into Malones elbow. If you didn’t see it somebody told you wrong my friend. Karl, my fraternity brother by the way, threw a very, very cheap shot at the real leader of that team, not Joe, who many people want to credit. Isiah should have two championship MVPs! Isiah in my opinion he was hit by Karl because he thought he could behead the chief and finally win the “chip” he could not knock a winner like (Jordan) which Isiah was! Isiah was not one who laid down to Michael, he is like Michael only shorter. Guts and glory was that man!

      • Klynester says:

        “Isiah like Michael”?????? well Michael would have finished the game even if they got swept off their homefloor that’s Michaels competitiveness, and he would definitely shake the hand of their opponents even after the loss…just sayin’

      • B Radd says:

        Michael, Isiah, LeBron, Kobe are all great in my opinion but Tim Duncan is who I would pick #1 overall if they all to enter into a fantacy draft. Duncan over Shaq, Bird and Magic even…

      • Klynester, are we talking about the same Michael Jordan who regularly started fights and was known for underhandedly provoking reactions which otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.

  34. NBAfan says:

    He didn’t care what everybody thought about him….he just played ball and competed (and succeeded)…kinda like the Kobe of his generation as far as NBA marketing is concerned…

    Lebron is the Jordan of his generation as far as marketing is concerned.

    • Kobe Fan says:

      NBAfan, you’re a dumb and a moron. Kobe is the michael jordan of today’s generation and LeBron is the Magic Johnson of his generation.

  35. The Angry Buddhist says:

    Greg Ostertag anybody?

  36. B Radd says:

    Thomas was not the poster child but sure made the NBA exciting to watch! Man that dude was Badd!