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Chuck Wing, Deseret News Archives
Jazz owner Larry H. Miller greets Karl Malone as he's introduced before the final home game of the regular season April 17, 2001.

SALT LAKE CITY — If you ask John Stockton, there is no debate. Then again, David Robinson feels the same way.

The Hall of Famers' firm opinions contradict each other, though.

As for Karl Malone, well, The Mailman will let everyone else banter back and forth about a topic that will no doubt be discussed around water coolers with the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies taking place this week.

That argument being, of course: Who is the best power forward of all time?

Is it the current popular choice of Tim Duncan? Perhaps Charles Barkley? One of the Kevins (McHale or Garnett)? Maybe Dirk Nowitzki or an old-timer like Bob Pettit or Elvin Hayes?

Or could it be the postal carrier that would carry the vote in Louisiana and Utah?

So, Mailman, are you the best ever?

"I don't know," Malone answered when asked the question during a recent KSL-TV interview.

Malone admitted that he never even thought about those types of things during his playing days.

"Being the best power forward or the best player," he said, "I will tell you without a doubt I never thought I was."

When it came to being ready to play, however, Malone definitely believes he held that advantage.

"Not one time," he said, "did I step on the floor physically and think that somebody was in better conditioning than I was."

Good luck finding competitors or observers to debate that topic.

As far as the all-time best question, Robinson proclaimed Duncan, his San Antonio Spurs sidekick, to be the premier power forward during his Hall of Fame speech last September.

The rebuttal came quickly.

Not surprisingly, Malone received an assist — this one in the form of verbal support — from Stockton at the same enshrinement ceremony. The Jazz legendary point guard called his favorite target "the greatest power forward to have ever played the game."

There is a pro-Duncan crowd among the Jazz family, though — including Malone himself.

Malone recently said he got giddy to play power forwards like Buck Williams and Maurice Lucas — even Charles Oakley.

"(They) were the guys that really got my juices going when I had to play them," Malone said.

But nobody garners Malone's respect like Duncan, who has quietly produced his own Hall-of-Fame career in the post.

"My all-time favorite right now is still Tim Duncan," Malone said while in Utah for his birthday and media interviews last month. "He just plays. He's old, but he's been playing like that now for 15 years."

Duncan isn't fancy, loud or exciting to watch, but the oft-brash and bruising Malone loved that you can always count on a double-double and a solid performance from the four-time NBA champion.

"He don't care about really what he's worth to the game or what you think about it; he just play," Malone said. "I think he's one of my favorite right now."

But what about the Round Mound of Rebound?

"Charles Barkley was soft. He was weak," Malone said, laughing. "He was a punk. Charles was a little punk; he knows that."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan admires both Malone, a low-post banger who developed a lethal mid-range game in 18 years under his tutelage, and Duncan, the silky smooth talent who could be called the Silent Assassin.

Sloan even once told USA Today that he might consider Duncan to be the top power forward ever, saying of the Spurs big man in 2007, "He is probably the best player to ever play the position the way he plays it."

The longtime Jazz coach, however, obviously has a soft spot in his heart for Malone, whom he praises highly because "he made himself a Hall-of-Fame player."

ESPN.com commissioned a panel of former players and NBA experts to end the debate once and for all. Though it's been five years since the results were published, the voting among the top spots remains consistent with more current discussion of Duncan being ranked first with Malone just a step behind at No. 2. The rest of the top fours included, in order: Barkley, McHale, Pettit, Garnett, Hayes, Dave DeBusschere, Williams and Nowitzki.

Gus Johnson, who will be posthumously enshrined into the Hall of Fame on Friday, along with Malone, was among other forwards to receive votes. Amare Stoudemire and Ben Wallace were the only other current players to be named in the 2005 poll, which would certainly include the likes of Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, perhaps Carlos Boozer and others, if a revote was taken.

NBA analyst Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame coach, was among the voters, and he made no secret of which power forward he picked.

"I think all around, there's never been a big forward quite like (Duncan)," Ramsay told USA Today. "Bob Pettit was a great scorer and rebounder. Karl Malone was a more powerful player, but they didn't have the versatility Tim does. Kevin McHale was probably the best low-post, back-to-the-basket big forward, and he was a good defender, but he, too, couldn't do the things Duncan can do."

While that debate might continue, Malone will have one prestigious bragging right over Duncan: The Mailman beat The Big Fundamental to the Hall of Fame by a bunch of years.

Karl Malone

Nickname: The Mailman

Career: 19 seasons (18 with Utah; 1 with Lakers)

Size: 6-9, 256

Averages: 25.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 51.6 FG%

Highlights: Two-time NBA MVP ... scored second most points in NBA history (36,928) ... Only player in league history to be named to All-NBA first team 11 times ... Played all 82 games in 10 different seasons ... made it to three NBA Finals (twice with Utah; once with Lakers).

Tim Duncan

Team: San Antonio Spurs

Career: 13 seasons

Nickname: The Big Fundamental

Size: 6-11, 260

Averages: 21.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 50.8 FG%

Highlights: Only player to earn All-NBA and All-Defensive honors in first 12 seasons ... two-time NBA MVP ... named NBA Finals MVP three times ... won four championship rings ... 12 straight All-Star seasons.