|Working together in harmony|
By Jason Whitlock
Page 2 columnist
Stockton and Malone is so much more than basketball.
It's a combination that speaks to the importance of sport in the evolution of American society. Stockton and Malone is a direct descendent of Branch and Jackie. Stockton and Malone symbolizes how much progress has been made in a half century, symbolizes how the struggle for racial harmony, which started in major cities such as Brooklyn, has even touched diversity-deficient cities such as Salt Lake.
If the Utah Jazz's Wednesday night playoff-series-ending loss to the Sacramento Kings is the end of Stockton and Malone then we need to celebrate this union. We need to recognize it for what it was, beyond a record number of assists, the perfect pick-'n'-roll and two Hall of Fame careers.
Stockton and Malone was a cultural phenomenon that beautifully illustrated what a white man and a black man could accomplish together when they embrace a common goal.
More than basketball? Of course.
Sports in America have always been more than just a game. Sports have always been on the frontlines of the racial-equality war. It's just that we normally ignore sports' racial component unless there's conflict, controversy and criticism. An accusation of racism will deservedly draw headlines. A raised, black-gloved fist will be immortalized.
But when it works, when a proud black man and proud white man work together in harmony so effectively for so long, we never take the time to celebrate that story. The union formed by John Stockton and Karl Malone 18 years ago is not uncommon in the world of sports. Nothing combats our prejudiced tendencies as effectively as competitive athletics.
We need to remember that during these times when we're hypercritical of the privileged, pampered world our athletes inhabit. The sports world is flawed. But in many ways it is far superior to the real world.
Stockton and Malone exemplifies team sports' ability to bring people together. Stockton and Malone doesn't need a championship ring to validate its importance. In this era of free agency, lack of loyalty and questionable commitment, Stockton and Malone was as important to the NBA as Air Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley's mouth.
Just like there will never be another Jordan or Magic or Larry or Wilt, there will never be another Stockton and Malone. Not for 18 straight years at least.
We'll remember Bird and Jordan and Magic for their championships. We'll remember Malone and Stockton for their unselfishness, their work ethic, their remarkable ability to make the Utah Jazz relevant and the way they protected each other.
Stockton had no business making the original Dream Team over Isiah Thomas. Individually, Stockton didn't compare to Zeke. It was criminal to deny Thomas a spot on that Olympic team. I took great delight in the fact that Zeke dropped 40-plus on Stockton after the Dream Team snub. And I was pissed when Malone dropped 40-plus stitches on Zeke's face in retaliation for Zeke undressing Stockton.
But that's exactly the kind of ruthless support I would want from a teammate.
I know their production has dipped. But I'd like to see Malone and Stockton continue to play together in Utah until Malone surpasses Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring record. Or, at least, Stockton should come out of retirement and make the pass to Malone when he breaks the record.
The NBA won't taste the same without Salt N Pepa.
Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.