|Friday, May 2
Updated: May 7, 3:46 PM ET
Stockton: 'I think it's time to move on'
SALT LAKE CITY -- John Stockton left the Delta Center on the verge of tears Friday, all but certain it is time for him to retire.
Stockton, the NBA's career leader in assists and steals, met with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and owner Larry Miller and told them he was not planning on coming back for a 20th season.
"I think I'm finished,'' Stockton said in the Jazz locker room. "I informed those guys and that's the direction I'm headed. I just said, 'I think it's time to move on.'''
The 41-year-old point guard's 15,806 assists and 3,265 steals all came with the Jazz.
Stockton wouldn't definitively say he was retiring, but made it clear that was his intention. Utah's season ended Wednesday night with a 111-91 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
"I would be very surprised. I can't think of what would change my mind at this point,'' Stockton said.
Stockton spoke briefly with reporters before his emotions took over. On the verge of tears, he cut the interview short and quickly ducked out of the Delta Center.
Stockton had not told his teammates, even forward Karl Malone, who spent 18 seasons taking thousands of passes from his pick-and-roll partner.
Malone said he heard the news on television while inside the arena for the team's final meeting of the season. He said he was disappointed that Stockton didn't deliver the news personally, but added that he would get over it.
"I love him to death, but if I could see him right now I'd like to shake him,'' Malone said.
Stockton's statement marked the first major turn of what figures to be an eventful offseason for the Jazz. Malone, who becomes a free agent this summer, may not return if the Jazz do not pay Malone what he feels he deserves.
"I don't want to say something that I regret. I don't know what I'm thinking at this point,'' Malone said. "I'm still shocked right now.''
Sloan is also considering retirement, but didn't want to talk about anything other than Stockton on Friday.
"In my opinion, John Stockton was the greatest. I had the opportunity to see what he was about every single game,'' Sloan said. "He gave it every single ounce of energy he had every time he stepped on the floor because he enjoyed playing.''
Said Malone: "I used to have a coach who said 'Make your teammate an All-Star.' That's what he tried to do every night,'' Malone said. "There will not be another one.''
Stockton, a father of six, said it was getting harder and harder to mentally prepare for games.
He was expected to decide on retirement within a few weeks, but he woke up Friday and decided not to prolong it. In typical Stockton fashion, he avoided a farewell news conference.
"I'm afraid I can't get reflective right now,'' Stockton said. "No, it will be too tough.''
Despite his age and playing his fewest minutes since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, Stockton remained among the league leaders at point guard this season, finishing fifth in the NBA with 629 assists. Stockton averaged 10.8 points, down from his career high of 17.2 twice in the early 1990s.
He was selected one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, and he played in every game in 17 of his 19 seasons.
Stockton was drafted 16th overall by the Jazz out of Gonzaga, the school in his hometown of Spokane, Wash. He was hardly known -- just a quiet, skinny 22-year-old with a thatch of jet black hair.
His appearance never changed much, but his anonymity vanished quickly once former coach Frank Layden made Stockton a starter in the 1987-88 season. That's when Stockton and Malone established themselves as one of the top tandems in league history.
Stockton went on a five-season spree averaging at least 1,100 assists and 200-plus steals while scoring between 14.7 and 17.2 points a game.
Establishing himself as one of the top point guards in the league, he earned a spot on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team, along with such stars as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
He was an Olympian again in 1996, the summer before the Jazz went from contenders to Western Conference champions.
Stockton and Malone led the Jazz to back-to-back conference titles in 1997 and 1998, when Jordan and the Chicago Bulls spoiled Utah's best chance for an NBA title.
Stockton will always be known more for his pinpoint passing and tenacity on defense than his shooting. But some of the Jazz's most memorable baskets came from Stockton's hand.
It was Stockton's 26-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer in Houston that gave Utah its first trip to the NBA Finals in 1997. In the 1999 playoffs, his 22-footer at the horn saved the Jazz from elimination, and Utah went on to beat Sacramento in the first round.
"He's had a great career, and I know I say this all the time, but I think people in the state of Utah won't understand the impact of his career until he's gone for a couple of years,'' said former teammate Mark Eaton, now a Jazz broadcaster. "It was an honor to play with him.''