NBA / Jul 13, 2011 / 12:30 pm

Who’s Better: Karl Malone Or Charles Barkley?

Karl Malone

Two of the greatest power forwards who ever lived. Two of the best 20-25 players of all-time. Two franchise enforcers who never won rings. Two complete opposites, one an out-going, comedian who’s perhaps become more famous since his retirement. The other, a farm boy from Louisiana who dropped out of the limelight the minute he said goodbye to the NBA. Karl Malone and Charles Barkley carried the power forward torch for nearly two decades (two decades that also happened to hold the best collection of big-men talent the game has ever seen).

So why now? No reason, other than it’s always fun to debate. Who was the better player: Karl Malone or Charles Barkley? We argue. You decide.

*** *** ***

This argument is distorted. It won’t matter what I say. Why? Inevitably, you’ll confuse Charles Barkley the player with Charles Barkley the must-see TV (the guy we love, and as a result, the guy you probably believe was better than Malone)…

In the aftermath of Chicago’s sixth NBA championship, and Utah’s second consecutive loss in the Finals, we all had Karl Malone pegged. He was a great player who failed in crunch time. That was his vice, and rather than the consistent work he put in for nearly two decades, that became his legacy.

On the other hand, Chuck used perhaps his greatest gift (his mouth) to turn himself into the ringleader of the greatest basketball-related show ever. Because we like him so much now, we forget: Barkley had even LESS success in the playoffs then Malone. And while you didn’t expect the Mailman to deliver in a close game, Barkley wasn’t exactly UPS either.

Even though Malone’s best chances at a title (’95-98) produced zero rings, Barkley was playing on a Houston team that was expected to win titles (or at least be in the Finals). But in ’97, Malone and the Jazz beat them. In ’98, Barkley got hurt and guess what? Malone and the Jazz beat them again.

Actually, with the best teams Barkley ever played on – the mid-’90s Suns – he blew a 2-0 lead heading home against Houston in 1994, then a 3-1 lead the following year against the same team.

Chuck was traded twice in his prime. During that same period, if someone had called to check Malone’s availability, offering anyone outside of Michael Jordan, Larry Miller and the Jazz would’ve laughed and hung up before the person could’ve even finished their sentence.

Stats can tell the story too. The craziest number of all: Malone scored nearly 15,000 more points throughout his career than Barkley, and has him beat in every single major category for their careers. By average, Barkley might’ve been the better rebounder (11.7 to Malone’s 10.1), but Malone scored more (25 a night to 22.1). Conference Finals trips? Malone had six runs. Barkley made it there just three times.

Or how about 207 to 10? Malone MISSED 10 GAMES IN 18 YEARS (it wasn’t until his final year – in L.A. – did he miss any extended time). Chuck missed 207 games during the same period (despite playing three less seasons). If you were starting a franchise and had the choice of a 22-year-old Malone or a 22-year-old Barkley, it’s not even a question.

Defensively? Please. Barkley was awful on defense, while Malone was at least respectable (and even made three All-NBA Defensive first teams).

Malone also won two MVPs while Barkley earned just one. Malone finished with 14 All-NBA teams (including 11 consecutive from 1989 to ’99); Barkley, just 11.

Various reasons – constant partying, coming into camp every year out of shape and an infatuation with doing things the hard way – caused Chuck’s prime to last for about half as long as Malone’s. The Mailman delivered for longer, finished with more individual accolades and had more team success.

In 1987, both were already dropping 20/10. By 2003, Chuck was on TNT, kissing donkeys and trying to outsprint old men. Malone was still averaging nearly 21/8. What more do you want?

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  • http://theswamp.wordpress.com Andrew Macaluso

    Case closed: My man Sweeney killed it.

  • north

    Malone is the NBA leader for turnovers OF ALL TIME! Even with Stockton spoon feeding him. Every accolade beside Malone’s name needs to have an asterix followed by a “Thanks to John Stockton” at the bottom. While KJ was sick, Barkley didn’t have the ball delivered to him 1 foot from the basket.
    Find some highlights, compare them… Malone’s are almost all pick and rolls with Stock… Barkley’s have a little of everything.

  • Sickness


  • First & Foremost

    @Scott, if you can’t make a serious argument just start throwing darts. I guess along the lines of:

    Malone might have been the better teammate playing the good soldier all those years in Utah, but if you had to take a GAMBLE, I’m going with Chuck. Charles might not have always been there in the postseason but not like he was a deadbeat dad either during his career. [Insert respectable averages]

    Malone put up some NRA guns blazing stats but if given the same consistency, Barkley would have closed the gap on both individual and team success. I’m out like not paying child support until said child becomes great at basketball and only recognizing 2 of 3 children that are related to me.

  • JAY

    Barkley was better than Malone…. in their primes. Malone was amazing and had the better overall career but I just feel like Stockton made the game ‘that’ much easier for him.

    Maybe it was playing with Shaq, Kobe, and Payton…. but when Malone stopped playing with Stockton, he looked lost on the court. Like he said to himself, “Shit, no more pick-n-rolls? What the fuck do I do now?”

  • Promoman

    I’d have to go with Karl. Barkley had more talent and could’ve been better than Karl but Charles didn’t have the committment towards winning that Karl had. Charles would score, rebound, yell, scream, and talk about winning but he’d also get in the gutter when it came to the locker room and chemistry. He’d bullshit on defense too, like Sweeney said. He was Allen Iverson before there was an Allen Iverson when it came to conditioning and practice. In Houston, he pretty much ran Clyde Drexler off and beefed with Scottie Pippen to the point of the team breaking up at the tailend of Hakeem’s prime. At least with Karl, you knew he’d come to work & win and he was still able to play at least at an All-Star reserve level when he retired.

  • cds1

    The Mailman hands down no question. You can make the argument tha “he couldn’t do it without Stockton” but the point is he DID it. Malone could do everything Barkely could do..rebound,pass(better),shoot(better) and had a bigger desire to win,work on improving his body and his game he had a bigger commitment to his team while Chuck bounced around the league the second things got tough. Malone was better on every level from skill to dedication to heart and desire. As much as I hate the Jazz and Jazz fans it’s true.

  • http://www.slcdunk.com AllThatAmar

    It’s like dating / relationships

    Barkley is the crazy, hot girl that was inconsistent, got on your nerves sometimes, and would hit you. Things were AMAZING for a few peak years – but she’d wear out her welcome and move on – each time losing a little something of herself and getting worse. When she got old, she was broken down and haggard until reinventing herself. (Being on TNT)

    Malone was less visible (didn’t dress like a slut), but more experienced and more successful (more MVPs, better stats, went to finals 3 times etc). Way more consistent and someone you could go deep with. (in the playoffs)Slow and steady wins the race, and Malone was better — if less amazing at their peaks. (If you like perception vs. Reality, Barkley never averaged 31/11 like Karl did).

    Obviously these two players aren’t women to date. They are both great. I think Malone is great-er. He came to work everyday, never showed up to practice hung over (read Jason William’s book), and while he may not have been as clutch as Michael Jordan — very few were.

    The bottom line is that Karl was good enough in the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs to get his team a shot at the finals, flawed as he was. Barkley wasn’t good enough or serious enough about his job to stay in shape, and stay healthy to do the same.

    Check out the H2H: http://tinyurl.com/5u4aglj

    Wins: Malone 23, Chuck 16
    Points: Malone 23.7, Chuck 18.4
    Rebounds: Malone 10.1, Chuck 10.1
    Blocks: Malone 0.8, Chuck 0.5

    Scoring achievements:

    30 pt games:

    Malone: 481 (435 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/5ulglko , 46 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/6am5tyx )

    Barkley: 241 (221 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/6fzqze8 , 20 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/69jg8ql )

    40 pt games:

    Malone: 48 (44 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/6af22sa , 4 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/69s39rn )

    Barkley: 26 (21 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/6el75qq , 5 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/62wyeb7 )

    50 pt games:

    Malone: 5 (4 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/6xmwfty , 1 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/65nty63 )

    Barkley: 1 (ZERO regular season: http://tinyurl.com/64czfrn , 1 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/6a2b6dp )

    60 pt games:

    Malone: 1 ( http://tinyurl.com/5tjw3ls )
    Barkley: 0 ( http://tinyurl.com/5r5o6as )

    Why so much importance for points? If you didn’t know Wins and Losses are determined by points. When you are winning and want to shut people up you can say scoreboard. What does the scoreboard show? Number of TV Commercials? Funny quotes? No. The scoreboard shows points. And Karl Malone (due to good off-season work ethic to stay healthy and high efficieny) is 2nd all time in points scored. Barkley is 23th. What’s the difference between 2nd and 23rd? 13,171 points. That’s more than all of Kevin Johnson’s total career points as a difference. Too abstract? Well, well all know that Carmelo Anthony is a great scorer, right? Well the difference in total points between Malone and Barkley is 89.7% of all of the points Carmelo has ever scored in the nba.

    And as for the “John Stockton was so good he made life easier for Karl Malone” argument . . . why didn’t John Stockton make Greg Ostertag so good? Why didn’t John Stockton make Mark Eaton or Thurl Bailey, or Marc Iavaroni, or Blue Edwards, or David Benoit, or Larry Krystoviac so great? Part of it is Stockton for sure, part of it is also the flex offense (thank you Dick Motta) — but a lot of it is malone. Stockton didn’t make Karl Malone 2nd all time in Defensive Rebounds. (Yeah, Karl is #2 in more than just scoring) Karl has more defensive boards than Moses Malone, Hakeem, Kareem, Shaq, Mutombo, and a lot of guys (including Barkley). That was Malone. Stockton didn’t make malone good on defense. Sure, he got a lot of points in the paint — but if you don’t seal your man you cant get good post up position. If you can’t set a good pick, there’s no reason to roll. Karl still managed to score when doubled and tripled – I don’t remember Barkley ever being triple teamed.

    All-Around Game:

    Nubmer of games with 20 pts, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal

    Malone: 360 (328 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/6dlmoc7 , 32 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/6zpf4y4 )
    Barkley: 305 ( 275 regular season: http://tinyurl.com/6yj4mba , 30 playoffs: http://tinyurl.com/6bnmvvd )

    Why all the emphasis on stats?

    Statistics are quantitative, objective measurements of on-court production. They are facts. And they can be used as evidence. Our memories may turn Barkley into some God-like being — but numbers do not lie. Barkley’s best year as a player was in 87-88 when he averaged 28.3 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 spg, and 1.3 bpg. That’s amazing. That was also his 4th year in the league. Over the next 12 seasons he would surpass 25 ppg only 4 more times.

    Malone? His best season was 89-90 where he got 31.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 spg, and 0.6 bpg. That was his 5th year in the league. Btw by that time he had already scored more ppg than Barkley’s best year. And after this 31 ppg year he had 9 more seasons of at least 25 ppg in 14 more seasons.

    Malone at his peak > than Barkley at his peak — partly because Malone’s peak years were longer.

    I could go on an on, listing individual awards, team records, and so forth — but the people who think Barkley is better will think he is better, no matter how much evidence you show. Malone even has a higher 3pt percentage, but whatever — Barkley has a more ‘all around’ game than Malone. More round, for sure.

  • cds1

    What’s sad is Stockton and Malone don’t get the credit they deserve ONLY because they played for the Jazz. If the two have them had played for any other team they would be considered the best(even though they were the best duo in NBA history and will be for eternity). If they were lifelong Lakers they would be GODS. Look at the respect Garnett gets even when he was a Timberwolf. People need to stop judging players by the team they play for because they have a problem with the state. There is nothing wrong with Utah. The Jazz are a model of what every NBA team should strive for and they deserve the respect they have earned.

  • cds1

    and to the guy who said when Malone stopped playing with Stockton he looked lost….sorry no, he maintained his career average in points and rebounds up until he got injured. so that argument is invalid.

  • cds1

    the only thing Barkely was consitent in year after year was rebounding

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    they both could finish but Charles was better with the ball and Karl was better without the ball, if that makes any sense

  • cds1

    People bviously aren’t reading the article as well. When Chuck was retired Malone was still averaging 20/8 in his last year WITHOUT Stockton. Nailed

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Quiznakes K Dizzle

    @ JAY

    My Lakers lost to Detroit in ’04 BECAUSE Malone was injured. Dude wasn’t lost in LA, he was 40. Lil different.

    Chuck is one of my favorite players. Dude was the 2nd to 4th most excitin dude to watch with Mike n Dominique and of course, Magic. There were ZERO powerforwards grabbin boards, takin off one on five, then crammin on some defender’s heads all day. Chuck’s issue was that he, like Shaq, never came into the season in any kind of decent shape for most of his career. Malone, on the other hand, was the hardest workin player in the league. His consistency is ridiculous and he gets this unfair unclutch label cuz Mike beat him like he beat everyone else, includin Chuck. I remember watchin Inside Stuff n they’d be showin Malone’s offseason workouts. Fully ridiculous.
    In short, I love em both and you can’t go wrong with either one. Both gonna score, both gonna board, both gonna dunk on a dude’s head and stand over him, glarin…

  • Keith

    The star that shines twice as brightly burns only half as long

    Barkley, if only because he didn’t have Stockton feeding him cookies for over a decade. Nash has proved recently that a good point guard can make role players look like hall-of-famers, and Stockton was the best distributing point guard of all time.

  • Sean Sweeney

    Another thing to add in this debate. Everyone wants to talk about how great it must’ve been for Malone to have a guy like Stockton around. Barkley played w/ MUCH more talent throughout his career. Until his final season in LA, Malone’s best teammates besides Stockton were guys like Thurl Bailey, Jeff Malone, Jeff Hornacek, etc.

    Barkley? He played with Moses Malone. And Julius Erving. And Andrew Toney. And Mo Cheeks. And Kevin Johnson. And Hakeem. And Drexler. And Pippen.

  • http://www.slcdunk.com AllThatAmar


    how is scoring less than malone at his peak shining twice as brightly?

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Quiznakes K Dizzle

    On a sidenote, Demetrius Bell votes for Chuck….just sayin
    Can we cut out the crap about John Stockton spoonfeedin the Mailman? Nash made it easier for already great players.
    Dudes post like Mailman is Kwame Brown and Stockton got him to the Hall of Fame. Dude had a diverse offensive game. Stock didn’t run the floor for a 250+ lb powerforward, he didn’t score for him, he didn’t rebound for him, and he didn’t make 3 First Team All Defensive teams for him.. Malone did as much for Stock as vice versa…

  • Keith


    Not saying Barkley was ever truly better than Malone, but I know which one I would prefer to root for on my team. Malone was ruthlessly efficient with Stockton hand-feeding him, Barkley was a buzzsaw who worked to get his.

    Some guys just have a style of play that appeals more. If, ultimately, they were both losers, I would prefer to have a loveable loser

  • Duncanrules


  • Charles Barkley

    I’m better.

  • Seven Deuce

    After watching most of their careers play out, I’d pick Barkley. There was always a sense of “uh oh, he’s about to set it off in this mother” about him, that the truly great offensive players have. Malone was efficent & powerful; but there really wasn’t much to his game besides rampaging forays to the basket to create contact (before he became a mid range jump shooter). Chuck would make big time plays at big time moments with any number of skills. His footwork around the basket alone kills Malone’s entire scoring repertoire. The man routinely got and 1’s against bigger opponents without even relying on his hops. For all Karl’s accomplishments; Charles’ versatile around game out shines them all.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Damn Amar. Preach!

  • rkirby

    Amar is a beast

  • pipdaddyy

    Dime, make better matchups, this one is not even close, Malone was better in almost every aspect of the game except self-promotion.

  • JAY

    “and to the guy who said when Malone stopped playing with Stockton he looked lost….sorry no, he maintained his career average in points and rebounds up until he got injured. so that argument is invalid.”
    That was me…
    …and I admit “lost” is a bit of a strong word. Maybe a better phrase is he looked like he didn’t gel. Thanks for mentioning his averages but that means nothing to me. Andrea Bargnani puts up amazing numbers for a center. If you just follow the Raptors boxscore, you’d think he’s the league’s best center. Then you watch him play and he’s fuckin lost. My opinion is based on the games I watched, not on googling his stats. To me, Malone looked like he couldn’t find his spots playing alongside Shaq. I give him props for being a contributor. He revamped his game and turned into a garbage man… like a souped-up Antawn Jamison.

    @K Dizzle
    “My Lakers lost to Detroit in ’04 BECAUSE Malone was injured. Dude wasn’t lost in LA, he was 40. Lil different.”
    He was 39 the year before and looked great playing with Stockton. Was it the 12 extra months that made him look “lost”, or was it the no-Stockton factor?
    Not only Malone looked lost, they all did. You can’t honestly tell me that Laker team operated as a cohesive unit. That was the worst LA “TEAM” in the Shaq/Kobe era, even though they had the most talent of that era. I understand your initial reflex is to defend the Lakers but be real man. That was not a good “team”. The games that they won were won because they had the best talent on the floor. The games they lost it looked almost like they were stepping on each others’ feet.

    I favor Chuck. That’s just me. Moving along…