Since I began working at ESPN 14 years ago, there have been five different NBA champions, nine different MLB champions and 10 different NFL champions. But just one Stockton-to-Malone.
|Stockton was never afraid to bang down low with the big boys.|
Next season will be the first since 1984-85 that will not feature John Stockton getting a member of the Utah Jazz an easy basket. In a society where people walk around in throwback jerseys, Stockton was the ultimate throwback player. His blueprint for playing was simple: pass first, second, and third -- and then think about shooting.
Stockton is the ultimate face in the crowd. Probably the only member of the 1992 Dream Team not to be mobbed by a crowd, Stockton shuns public attention. During the NBA Finals a few years ago, I wanted to do a Sunday Conversation with him.
After working out a time with Kim Turner, the Jazz's director of media relations, I sat down and interviewed Stockton for roughly 21 minutes. During the interview, I wondered why he kept sneaking peeks at his watch. I didn't understand until later, when Turner admitted he lied to John about the length of the interview to get him to agree to it.
While Stockton has shunned the spotlight, the record books know his name well. Only nine times in NBA history has a player amassed 1,000-plus assists in a season. Stockton has been that player seven of the nine times. He led the league in assists for a record nine seasons. He has the highest single-season assists-per-game average in league history (14.5 in '89-90). He's the NBA's all-time leader in assists (15,806) and in steals (3,265). He made the playoffs in every season he played.
Even though his career was singularly incredible, it's still difficult to mention him without mentioning teammate Karl Malone. Actually, that sums Stockton's game up perfectly. He wasn't having a great game unless you were mentioning someone else's name alongside his.
He did it all with an array of subtle moves that weren't spectacular ... just fundamentally sound. He didn't dunk or show off for the crowd. He didn't have the Metropolitan Museum of Art etched onto his body, and he was more likely to make a chest pass than a leaping no-look pass. Crowds didn't go wild over Stockton's plays -- they went wild over the plays he produced. If Tim Duncan is the Big Fundamental, then Stockton is the Little Fundamental.
When Stockton was drafted in the first round in 1984, people wondered who he was. It's nearly 20 years later and they still wonder.
In true Stockton fashion, he didn't have a big going-away celebration or a press conference announcing his retirement with fanfare. He merely told Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and owner Larry Miller that he felt it was time to move on. When approached by the media in the locker room, he said he didn't want to drag his decision out. Stockton came to a decision and acted quickly -- just like on the court.