Yesterday, I offered up the idea of looking at two iconic members of Sonic history. One of them is the ultimate Seattle hero, the other the ultimate villain.
Seattle sports fans can argue about plenty of things. Is Dave Krieg better than Matt Hasselbeck? Would Felix Hernandez outduel Randy Johnson? Greatest Seattle sports hero: Gary Payton, Steve Largent or Ken Griffey? Does Rick Neuheisel have a soul, or rather, were you to slice open his midsection, would you find only a slimy concoction of bile, self-importance, and teeth?
We can all agree on one question, though: Karl Malone is the supreme villain in our history. Sure, you’ve got a Clemens over there, a Jabbar perhaps, the entire Oakland Raiders roster, and so on, but the Mailman is hands-down the most hated man to ever take the court against a team from Seattle. Any counterargument is nonsense.
The only great thing about Karl Malone was that he made himself so easy to hate. The flopping, the elbows, the idiotic hand-behind-the-head dunking … heck, just being a member of the Jazz was enough to make us hate him, but then he had to go and be jerkoff on top of that? Phew! We hated Karl Malone like we hated Californians who bought our real estate – because there was no conceivable reason not to.
All of which goes a long way to explaining how hard it is for me to state this: When it comes to the argument of Karl Malone or Shawn Kemp in head to head competition, it’s pretty darn hard to make a case for the Reignman. To wit:
- The two played 42 games while Kemp was a starter for the Sonics. Kemp scored 20 points or more ten times. The Mailman did it 40 times.
- Malone averaged more points, assists, rebounds, committed fewer turnovers and personal fouls, shot better from the field, and got to the line 50% more often.
- In Malone’s five best scoring efforts, he tallied 38, 35, 32, 32, 32, a total of 169 points. Kemp’s five best efforts? 29, 29, 26, 26, 26, for 136 points.
- The Mailman racked up 10+ free throws made nine times. Kemp did it thrice.
- Malone fathered one child out of wedlock, as far as we know. Kemp had at least three or four. Or five. Fine, there may have been six, but, geez, did you see the dress on that girl?
You could go on and on. Malone’s dominance was indicative of how he wound up as the second-highest scorer in league history despite a lack of 3-point shot or a dominant, Olajuwon-like post-up game. His was a battle of attrition. Malone wasn’t going to score 50 every other month, but he was going to get his 27 points, dammit, even if it took 28 shots to do it..
Still, setting aside Malone’s black-hole approach to offense, he was dominant. How dominant? Try this on for size, if you will. The Sonics battled the Jazz 25 times with Malone and Kemp as starters in the regular season. Of those 25 games, take a guess at how many times Kemp outscored the Mailman. Go on, guess.
That’s right, Kemp outscored Malone as often as George Karl modeled for Playgirl. 25 times the Mailman battled the Reignman in regular season play as equals, and 25 times Karl topped Kemp in the points column. I know, I know, Malone played more minutes, he took more shots (483 to 275 to be exact), yada, yada, yada.
Still, that’s incredible, right? Think back on all those clashes, all those times Malone escaped on fast breaks and threw down one of his ridiculous Kid ‘n Play dunks with his left hand behind his head … shouldn’t Kemp have prevailed at least once? He was Shawn Kemp, for crying out loud. The man child! The dunker of dunks! Only a Mormon would put up a poster of Karl Malone, but Kemp’s posters were in college dorm rooms across the country. You could get away with charging $20 for a Kemp’s Greatest Dunks DVD, but how much could you get for The Mailman’s Greatest Dunks? 37 cents? Heck, it probably came on Betamax, those moves were so played out.
Put all that aside, though. Even if you look at their playoff performances, Malone still comes out ahead in the numbers, almost absurdly so. He averaged 10 points more than Kemp did in the postseason. 10 points! C’mon, people, can you seriously consider any alternative to the notion that Karl Malone was head, shoulders, and pointy elbows above Shawn Kemp in their head-to-head play? Sure, Kemp could dunk, but what difference does that make, really? What kind of moron would dare suggest that any conclusion other than Malone’s supremacy is possible?
Raises hand meekly.
Um, this moron does. It’ll take some slight-of-hand statisticology that may qualify me for an emergency federal bailout, but I think I can make it work. Tune in tomorrow to find out.