Review: John Stockton’s “Assisted”

November 5th, 2013 | by Laura Thompson
Kent Horner/Getty Images

Kent Horner/Getty Images

If you’ve heard John Stockton in interviews before, you’ll be able to hear his voice throughout the book, because he writes very similarly to how he speaks. The style is classic Stockton: humble, gracious, and deflecting praise whenever possible and redirecting it to where he feels it’s more deserved. This is exactly the kind of book and story you’d expect from an understated player who’s the all-time NBA assists leader. Even though the book is about him, he reflects as much of the praise and adoration as he can on those around him, those who guided and nudged him along his path.

He starts off with some background on his family, his growing-up years in Spokane, his relationship with his older brother, Steve, his time through college, and his start in the NBA. Some great stories have already been mentioned on other blogs, but I love the bit about him buying a Toyota Corolla as a rookie, but forgetting to register it or insure it that year, only to return it to the dealership a year later and find out the dealership didn’t even know it was missing!

His recounting of not turning on the heat in his small apartment his rookie season was pretty classic, too. It’s just the continuing story of a frugal man who was worried that, any day, he was going to be cut and sent packing. He was exceptionally careful with money, just in case. To think that a future Hall of Famer was so worried about being cut is a delightful story, in hindsight.

I have a couple favorite insights from the book, one of which I knew part of the story, and the other part that really surprised me.

The surprising part: He had fond memories of and appreciation for Isiah Thomas. Jazz fans appreciate Isiah’s GM-ship (that gave essentially gave us Gordon Hayward), but I feel many have soured on him because of other stories that have been discussed over the years. But Stockton sheds light on a generous mentor, one who ran after Stockton in a parking lot after a game, telling him, “Don’t let anyone run you out. You are playing great. Play as long as you still love it.” That, coupled with Thomas calling Stockton’s dad after the Olympic selection controversy to make sure the family knew his real sentiments, were insightful stories into a man whose character we might have wrongly perceived at times. Leave it to Stockton to be the one to graciously clarify.

Probably my favorite passage of the book described a situation briefly mentioned in the Larry H. Miller autobiography, Driven, but was given more context here. After hiring David Falk to represent him in contract negotiations, Stockton was hearing about his demands in the media or was disappointed that contract talks had stalled. In an extremely classy move, Stockton called Miller directly and asked if they could meet. Considering they didn’t have a relationship at that point, that was a gutsy—but impressive—call to make. After the initial pleasantries, Stockton was direct in asking, “Why are we stalled?” Miller explained the situation from his side, and handed a paper across the table, telling Stockton to write down what he thought he was worth, and Miller would do the same. The number was the same, and the contract negotiation was done.

I was incredibly impressed that a player would have the gumption to call the owner directly, ask to meet, they could clear the air, and quickly and easily come to a resolution. That might not be possible in today’s league, but folks might not have thought it possible in the league 20-25 years ago, either. But it was done, and shows the character of both Stockton and Miller as individuals.

That relationship grew over the years and as they were negotiating what would be Stockton’s final contract, Miller offered a deal that would have made Stock the highest-paid point guard in the league. While appreciated, Stockton countered with a substantially lower offer.

Can you even imagine anything like that happening in today’s NBA?

“Assisted” is a glimpse into the character of a man who is unique in the world, but even more unique in the world of the NBA. His voice throughout is simple, straightforward, and clear. The book reveals a man who is exactly who we hoped he would be—a strong, upstanding family man with a dose of humility and humor that is refreshing when penned by a Hall of Famer. He pays tribute to his family and friends, those who assisted him along the way. He discusses times when he didn’t handle situations as well as he could have, and shares some of his thoughts and process as his career was wrapping up. You get to see the ordinary human side of an extraordinary player, and that’s very refreshing.

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson

I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson

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4 Comments

  1. Sam says:

    Laura,
    I also just finished the book, but came away feeling conflicted about my child-hood idol John Stockton. I have been a die-hard fan of Stockton’s since his second season, and knowing his personality was really surprised to see that he had written this book. Lightheartedly, my overall impression of the book was that it was a good thing that Stock was such a great player, because he really doesn’t have much of a future as an author. By reading the title, it was easy to guess that Stockton was going to spend the entire book giving everyone else credit for the things he accomplished. But at some point, I hoped to learn some insight into one of the most accomplished yet reclusive athletes we have ever seen. It turns out that the most impressive aspect of this book was that a person – any person – could manage to write a 250+ page autobiography without letting the reader have almost any insight into the authors heart and mind. The book seemed to put up even more barricades around Stockton than previously existed. The only moments in the book when I felt like Stockton really opened up and gave the reader a look into his heart was when he complained about being required to interact with the fans either by way of required Jazz events or autograph requests. This was pretty unsettling. I think that I set the book down having come away with the following impressions about Stockton: 1) he gives praise to little guys along the way – but the cumulative effect was that it sounded forced or overdone in an effort to uncomfortably focus attention away from the really interesting players and persons he worked with but almost never mentioned in the book; 2) he really does not seem to appreciate the fans desire to have access to players and the game, and in fact, may very well despise the fans; and 3) after having read this book I would be TERRIFIED to ever approach him in a public setting under any circumstance. In sum, I thought that the book was rather dull, did not reveal any “new” funny or entertaining basketball stories, and sadly it left me feeling like I had paid John Stockton $23 to be lectured in a bit of a patronizing fashion about why I should leave him and his family alone. Maybe the most revealing feeling I had after finishing the book is that I had planned on passing the book on to my Dad (who is also a Stockton fan) to read, but I sort of do not want him to read the book . . . . . .

    • Laura says:

      Sam, very interesting thoughts; thanks for sharing. I can see where you’re coming from: for the first 50 pages or so, I was a little disappointed in the book, probably because I was hoping it would be as revealing and insightful and moving an autobiography as I found Driven to be. But then I took a step back, realized it’s coming from a very different personality type and shifted my expectations for the book.

      It probably helped, too, that I met him a while ago and found him to be incredibly warm, gracious, and kind. I also know someone who worked with him during his time with the Jazz so I’d get bits and pieces of his life and personality over the years; that all gave context to what I was reading on the page.

      I’m passing the book off to my mom next (she’s also a Jazz fan), so I’ll be interested to know if she shares your opinion of the book or if she finds it more interesting. I’ll be crossing my fingers for the latter!

      What did you think of Driven?

    • peter n says:

      Sam,

      I live about a block and a half away from John and his wife, and the younger part of his family that still lives at home.
      I want to say first, that I do not know John personally, nor do I know anyone who claims to have a close relationship with him.

      However, I have lived in Spokane for over 20 of my last 30 years, and have been aware of John, his mother and father, and his brother, almost all of that time.
      I run into him on occasion, as one might expect, living so close by, at the grocery store, the burrito place down the road, the movie theatre, etc.
      Additionally, I, and many people I know, have bumped into him or one of his family members on the basketball court… Spokane is a very, very basketball oriented town (maybe one of the most roundball-centric cities in America, per capita… and dare I say it, perhaps THE most basketball centric), and I have to point out, everything I have seen, heard, and felt about both him and his family is precisely the opposite of what you seem to be feeling.
      First, anyone who asks for a lower contract, makes many sacrifices for the team because it’s his family, and forms such strong bonds with people to whom he is close, isn’t being reclusive or standoffish, or being purposefully withdrawn… he’s expressing a deep inner conviction, living according to his beliefs, and we are seeing a private man who is simply living his life as he believes it should be lived… privately.
      I cannot (nor, I suspect, can you) even begin to imagine the life of a person who is thrust onto a public stage – a stage they could refuse, yes, but one whose parameters and boundaries are far beyond their (or anyone’s) control… and he may have had strong feelings about the impact to his personal life and convictions about how strange or purposeless the fan’s behaviors are/could be, but he was in all ways as gracious as he could be… I can think of many, many people in the limelight who have been far more open with their thoughts and feelings… and I wish they would not be, because it’s not often all that pretty.
      None of us is perfect, and few of us could stand the kind of day in day out scrutiny to which they are subjected, so I don’t blame him (or anyone else) for being quiet or withdrawn… in fact, I sometimes wonder that it seems to be the exception as opposed to the rule. To my mind he avoided the seduction and drama of that life, and not only did he have every right to choose to do so, it was both in keeping with his nature, and a wise decision.
      I’m really in no position to judge his choices, nor your feelings about his choices, but I will say this – everything I have seen of him and his family, and everything I have heard from people who have met him both tangentially and worked with him are congruent. He appears to be a kind, decent, thoughtful, introspective, and reasoned person. He is an anomaly, yes, but a positive one, to my way of thinking.
      I loved watching Jordan play. I loved the Lakers. Utah was never “my team”. But I have to say it… with the possible exception of the Spurs of the last decade, I have never seen a better run Basketball organization than the Spurs – they cared about the fans, the players, and the game, and despite the fact that they were not my “favorite”, I had, and still retain, the greatest of respect and admiration not only for John Stockton and Karl Malone, but for the entire organization for whom they became the most public face… and once again, I think John did it as well as it could be done: family, team, and dignity.
      And it continues: one of the great excitements in my life right now is watching his son play with the Zags and see flashes of John’s greatness reflected in David’s passing, court vision, leadership, pluck… it’s pretty fun (even though it makes me feel old) to see the whole team get better the minute he steps on the court. Echoes of the past…

      John may be the greatest player to have ever played the game… it’s hard proving he was the BEST player (although I believe I could make a pretty fair argument that he is, at least to date), but his level of play combined with his statesmanship leads me to propose he might be the finest combination of both.

      I wish I were half the man.

      -peter

  2. Sam says:

    Laura,

    I LOVED Driven. It gives you the inside stories and sort of the “motivational” speeches that make you feel good. We need Karl Malone’s auto-biography! Who is going to volunteer to be the editor though??

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