By Rob Mahoney
June 05, 2013

Karl Malone joked that Michael Jordan didn't belong in his all-time starting five Does Karl Malone really believe Michael Jordan is not an all-time great? (Manny Millan/SI)

The sporting world at large is vehement -- and justified -- in its claim that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, and it will put on blast anyone who dares says otherwise. That includes a joking Karl Malone, apparently, as the Mailman has drawn ire and headlines after facetiously leaving Jordan -- and Magic Johnson -- out of his all-time starting five in an interview Tuesday on The Dan Patrick Show.

"My all-time starting five: I gotta have Wilt Chamberlain as my center. I gotta have John Stockton as my point guard," Malone told Patrick. "I'm going to put LeBron James at my power forward position. … I gotta put Oscar Robertson at my 2-guard. My other guy … I'm gonna shock the world. I have to put Scottie Pippen at the 3. ... Scottie Pippen led the [Bulls] in every statistical category when he was there without Michael Jordan. That's why I gotta put Scottie Pippen.”

Find video of the clip below:

If one had only seen or heard that particular segment of Malone's interview, it's conceivable that his comments could be taken on face value. But as Malone noted Wednesday on Twitter in response to the backlash, it all comes as an extended gag on Patrick, who had brought up Jordan's name repeatedly earlier in the interview:

This isn't a former player covering for a gaffe, but a legitimate oversight on the part of those who took Malone's sound bite and ran with it. To more fully understand the context of the interview, one needs to listen to Malone's appearance in full -- and can through Patrick's website. Malone hops on around the 14:00 mark, bantering with Patrick on fishing, hanging with Jerry Sloan and returning to the show to co-host. After Malone noted that he would riff honestly on any subject that Patrick brought up, their exchange went as follows:

Patrick: Which career would you rather have, aside from yours: Steve Nash or Jason Kidd?

Malone: John Stockton.

Patrick: No, that's not part of it. See, you wanna get it off your chest, you wanna be real and be honest ..

Malone: No, no, no, why are you leading me with a point guard?Are you kidding me? OK, what career I'd rather have?

Patrick: Yeah.

Malone: Oh, gosh…

Patrick: Yeah, see, this is how it works.

Malone: No, no this is really not how it works. I've gotta steer this interview like I want to ...

Patrick: I'm Jordan. I'm Jordan on this show.

Malone: Are you?

Patrick: Yes!

Malone: Well, you could be Jordan on this show -- your show -- which is a good show without Karl Malone on it, or you could be Jordan with Karl Malone on it.

Patrick: All right, I'll be Stockton. I'm trying to be Stockton setting you up here.

Malone: Be Stockton, and see -- now we relate. You started off on the wrong foot.

It was all in good fun, and segued into Malone honestly answering the question that Patrick initially posed. After Malone wrapped up his explanation, Patrick immediately circled back to Jordan (and Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between Jordan's Bulls and Malone's Jazz):

Patrick: Did Jordan foul you on that last play right before he hit the jumper [to win the series]? On the steal, did he foul you on that play?

Malone: Well, look, you're not sounding like John Stockton now, because we don't make excuses.

Patrick: I didn't say it was an excuse! I wanted you to clarify, Karl.

Malone: Dan, listen: That's a great angle you have. That's a great angle. But it doesn't work with me -- I'm on top of my game today. I will say this -- I will say this right here: The Chicago Bulls won the championship. OK? So that's how I wanna leave it. That was 10 years ago, OK? And that's how I'm going to leave it. I don't want no trouble. I come in peace!

Patrick: I just wanted you to clarify it because we know he pushed off Bryon Russell [on the game-winning jumper]. That was a push-off. But I didn't know if he fouled you when he took the ball from you underneath the basket.

Malone: You know what? It was cat-quick reflexes, he just stole it. [Patrick laughs] What's funny? What's funny? Man, I'm giving this interview from the heart. Can't you see it ...

Patrick: I can feel it.

Malone: You can feel it just oozing out?

Malone will always be linked to Jordan as a result of their shared time in the league, their gold medals as members of the 1992 Dream Team and their clashes in the 1997 and '98 NBA Finals. But without delay, Patrick circled back for his third straight Jordan reference in just a few minutes of conversation:

Patrick: Who would you rather have as a teammate: Jordan or LeBron?

Malone: Hold on, hold on: Do you have a man-crush on Michael Jordan today? What's the deal here? I'm just asking that question here. [Does] Dan Patrick, my friend, my buddy, have a man-crush on Jordan today?

Patrick: Yeah.

Malone: OK, all right. Go ahead.

With all of this established, Malone's later omission makes much more sense. He fumbled around with his picks a bit, likely looking for an excuse to not choose Jordan for the sake of a call-back to their earlier exchange. Patrick played along, too, noting Malone's alleged "man-crush" on Scottie Pippen.

There really isn't much newsworthy in a radio host and Hall of Fame player having a bit of fun with one another, though the clamor has been so loud and so inattentive to context that Malone was set to appear again on Patrick's show Wednesday in order to clear the air. This is what the sports media world has become: Playful banter reduced to a context-less sound bite fed into the machine for a flurry of instant (and incredulous) response.

UPDATE: Here is Malone's appearance with Patrick on Wednesday.

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