In the midst of a rough Utah Jazz season, sometimes it’s good to take a minute to reflect on some better times.1 In that same spirit, today is the one and only John Stockton’s 52nd birthday. Without further ado, here are 52 memories of and thoughts about #12:
1- One has to start with the absolutely magical relationship Stockton had with Karl Malone. Do Utah Jazz fans realize how lucky they were to have two Hall of Famers giving their all, night in and night out, for nearly two decades? The debates of who was more important or who benefited more from the other are moot. The symbiotic nature of this tandem’s on and off-court unity may never be replicated. They also shared a love for milk, even before they became the dynamic duo.
2- Few were better at the pull-up 3-pointer, quite often when managing a two-for-one situation at the end of a quarter.
3- The absolute respect Jerry Sloan and John Stockton had for each other. Stockton was an extension of Sloan on the court, with the latter calling most of the plays. John never quibbled–he did what was asked and excelled. The mutual love they had for each other was evident on the night the franchise honored him after his retirement, when Sloan teared up, saying “We thought you’d play forever, John.”
4- Stockton’s professionalism. For 19 seasons, he came to work. By all accounts, he reveled in practices just as much as the games. His preparation was unparalleled.
5- At every opportunity, Stockton was quick to acknowledge his teammates contributions, often deflecting attention toward his own accomplishments. On the night he broke Magic Johnson’s all-time assist mark, he said “The guys were making some incredible shots–ones I won’t soon forget.” The epitome of an unselfish leader.
6- Stockton did not exhibit much flashiness. That’s not to say that he never dribbled between his legs or made the occasional behind the back dish–he did. But he was effective and efficient–even when playing in 10 All-Star games.
7- 15,806 assists, seven times surpassing the 1,000 dime mark (with one season with 987). Imagine what that total would have been had he started more frequently his first three seasons. Even as is, it will always be one of sports most unbreakable records.
8- The absolute durability. In 17 of his 19 seasons, Stockton played every game. When he had that injury in 1997, he worked tirelessly to get back, missing on 18 games when others would’ve been sidelined much longer.
9- In the 1987-88 season, Stockton shot 57.4 percent from the floor. He was better than 50 percent for 12 seasons, and never shot worse than his rookie year’s 47.1 percent mark. But, according to Mark Jackson, he was a “good to very good shooter…not to be considered a great shooter.” Okay.
10- Of course, the short shorts. The ladies on Friends loved them.
11- John had a great sense of humor.
12- Stockton donned Nike’s Air Maestro’s in the 1990s. Like many out there, that instantly became my shoe of choice. Here’s John’s Foot Locker ad for said sneaker.
13- Perhaps everyone’s favorite Stockton moment was naturally “the Shot.” What was even more amazing was the complete way he took over the last few minutes of that game. He either scored or assisted on every basket down the stretch. It was as clutch a performance as there has been.
14- Also from that fateful game in Houston was the image indelibly etched in Jazz fans’ hearts forever–Stockton, Malone and Jeff Hornacek embracing for a brief moment before being surrounded by their teammates.
17- Shocking the whole world, John Stockton penned his autobiography, Assisted. Even the most devout Jazz fans can glean so much by reading this book. It was also enjoyable to see Stockton go about the media circuit, granting more interviews in a few weeks’ time than he seemingly did during several seasons.
18- Not being recognized by anyone in Barcelona, as part of the 1992 Dream Team. Not one of my favorite memories: Stockton going down with a broken leg, thus preventing him from playing much with the greatest team in basketball history.
19- For the analytics junkies, Stockton led the NBA three times in True Shooting Percentage, including a .651 mark in 1994-95. He paced the league in eFG% at .596 the following season.
20- Larry H. Miller loved Stockton–that was very evident. When asked what John was like, Miller’s reply was “He’s everything you think he is.”
21- He was tops in the league in Assist Percentage 15 seasons–including his final year at age 40.
22- A few more advanced stats: 207.7 Win Shares; 121 Offensive Rating and 104 Defensive Rating…for his entire career.
23- Stockton was fiercely loyal to the Utah Jazz. The stories of his contact talks, where Miller and Stockton would each write on a paper what they each thought was a fair number. And that was it. No agents. No posturing. Just two men in a room who respected each other.
24- Stockton’s Hall of Fame speech. To go into the Hall the same time as Jerry Sloan was priceless.
25- 3,265 steals by the NBA’s most prolific thief. He lead the league twice and tallied over 100 each season, minus the lockout year and the season of his injury.
26- Naturally, we have to mention the screens he set. It did not matter if you were Shaquille O’Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon, Stockton was not afraid to go inside. It earned him the “dirty” label, but it seemed like it was just good, tough basketball.
27- Gary Payton saying Stockton was harder to guard than Michael Jordan. Repeatedly, much to many media members’ and fans’ chagrin.
28- The pick & roll. To perfection.
29- Stockton leading the Jazz to victory over the Chicago Bulls despite being down 107-100 with 40 seconds left. One of my favorite Hot Rod Hundley calls of all-time.
30- Back in the late 1980s, Wilt Chamberlain said that if he was starting a team from scratch, Stockton would be the first player he’d choose.
31- The Dean John Wooden saying Stockton was the only guy he’d pay money to watch. “He’s just my favorite player to watch in the pros.”
32- Doling out 24 assists against the Lakers in the 1988 Playoffs to tie Magic’s single-game postseason record.
33- Stockton remained a family man, one who was devoted to his wife and kids.
34- Together with Hornacek, Stockton helped form a truly remarkable back court. These were two guys who could shoot, pass and defend with the best of them, even though they joined forces toward the end of their careers.
35- “The Pass” against the Bulls in the Finals.
36- Stockton was one of the few players who placed his heart on his chest and sang the national anthem prior to games. .
37- Sharing the 1993 All-Star Game MVP honors with the “Mailman.” Stock finished with nine points, 15 assists and six rebounds, but it was his clutch play down the stretch that helped him earn part of that trophy. That was a great respite in an otherwise difficult season.
38- Making the All-Defensive team five times. Toward the end of his career, Stockton did struggle against speedy counterparts, but in his heyday, he was a tough defender. Mark Eaton and Greg Ostertag did allow him to roam a bit and play the passing lanes, but Stockton was gritty when going one-on-one.
39- Being selected 11 times to the All-NBA team.
40- Being a torch bearer during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
41- At the press conference two months ago, seeing Jerry Sloan in the middle, with Stockton on one side and Malone on the other took Jazz fans back to glory days.
42- Seeing the Stockton statue be unveiled outside of the arena. Likewise, driving through the intersection of John Stockton Drive and Karl Malone Drive just next to EnergySolutions Arena.
43- Stockton being one of the 1996 Olympic team captains.
44- Making the Playoffs each of his 19 seasons.
45- The absolutely classy gesture by the Sacramento Kings fans in giving Stockton and Malone a standing ovation in what would be their final game together. Watching the scene brings chills.
46- Stockton’s retirement ceremony. It was a great opportunity for Jazz fans to deservedly shower #12 with love.
47- Hearing Hot Rod call every Stockton “leapin’ leaner,”yo-yo,” “belt-high dribble,” and “hippity-hop.” There’s also “With a gentle push, and a mild arc, the old cowhide globe hits home” and, of course, “Stockton-to-Malone.” There was only one Hot Rod. “You gotta love it baby!”
48- Seeing him a few times each season at Jazz games.
49- I grew up not caring much for sports. Then in 1987, my father took me to a Jazz game in the old Salt Palace. There was this speedy, short guard making some incredible passes. I was hooked to basketball, becoming a lifelong Jazz fan thanks to John Stockton.
50- Stockton could have undoubtedly be a 20-22 PPG scorer in the NBA. He was that great of a shooter. Many people’s biggest gripe was his passing up shots at times. Still, his selflessness was incredible to watch.
51- His taking the time to tutor first Deron Williams and then Trey Burke and Alec Burks this past offseason.
52- John Stockton is truly the greatest point guard to ever play the game.
Thank you for indulging me. Feel free to share some of your favorite John Stockton memories and thoughts below. And Happy Birthday John!