John Stockton on Jordan, Malone and post-NBA life
In addition to leading the Utah Jazz to 19 consecutive playoff appearances and a pair of trips to the Finals, point guard John Stockton also totaled out more assists and more steals than any player in NBA history. Since retiring in 2003, the Hall of Famer has largely remained out of the spotlight. In late October, though, Stockton published his autobiography, Assisted. He took a few minutes to sit down with SI.com to discuss his career, his book and whether he has any interest in coaching in the NBA.
SI.com: First question -- Did Michael Jordan push off against Byron Russell?
John Stockton: No question. I'm not saying that because I think it should have been called a foul. I don't. But he shoved him.
SI.com: So he pushed off, but no foul.
SI.com: Got it. So the immediate reaction I get when I tell NBA people that you wrote a book is, "John Stockton wrote a book?" Have you been getting a lot of that?
Stockton: Yeah. I have intentionally not been a very public person, and I've enjoyed that. The private life I have acquired since I retired. There was a void. There was time that I had to find something to do. I didn't want to just wallow through the days. I wanted to do something that I was proud of. So I approached my old coach with the idea and a project was born
SI.com: Who was the most surprised that you were writing a book?
Stockton: I think that's still coming. The one who wasn't was Karl Malone. He was enthusiastically supportive. He didn't question it for a moment. That surprised me.
SI.com: So ... why did you want to do it?
Stockton: I had a lot of things I wanted to say to my children. We have car rides from sporting events but you don't get a chance to talk to them as much as you like. You don't get a chance to explain things. That was probably the start of it. I wasn't worried about publishing or anything else. I was just worried about doing it. That exercise was good for me.
SI.com: What kind of book is it?
Stockton: I don't want to sound dramatic, but it's a little unique. It's not your typical sports book. It's not your typical novel. It's a large thank you note to a lot of people, and hopefully it is an encouraging book to a lot of people who don't realize the impact they have on people's lives. A lot of simple, everyday people make major contributions that turn people one way or another. I hope I capture that.
SI.com: What's one thing in the book about Karl Malone that we don't know
Stockton: He was incredibly generous, both with his time and his good fortune. He sees people's needs and helps them. He has done it time and time again. He was approached at an airport baggage claim once by some lady who mistook him for a skycap. She said, "Excuse me, can you help me with my bag." And the whole team was standing around watching. And he says, "Why, sure," picks up her bags and walks them out to a car that was full of people who knew exactly who he was. He never broke character. He just put the bags in the car. She offered him a tip and he said, "This one is on me."
SI.com: How close were you two?
Stockton: We were like brothers. We went back a long ways, and that was even before our NBA careers started. We met in 1984, at the Olympic trials. Both of us were cut eventually but it started something. And when he was drafted, we rekindled it right away. The nature of our games meshed and jelled. And we both found homes in Salt Lake City.
SI.com: Yeah, but personality-wise, you guys seem like completely different people ...
Stockton: But we had a lot of respect for each other. We didn't agree on anything; we came from entirely different cultures. But I have great respect for everything he has done down in Louisiana. The fact that we learned to say and do everything with complete comfort around each other helped create a long-lasting friendship.
SI.com: When did you realize that on the court, you guys might have something special?
Stockton: The first practice playing with him, even though he was an immediate starter and I was still a backup, something just clicked. He knew where I was going to throw passes. I seemed to know where he was going to be open. I knew it was something special.
SI.com: Did you like playing for Jerry Sloan?
Stockton: Loved it. It was an absolute honor. Frank Layden was the perfect guy for me to start with, but Jerry was the perfect guy for all of us to expand. Frank turned the Jazz from a perennially losing team to a team that started to win. Jerry took the winning team he set up and made us believe we could be champions. He was a no-excuse guy. He was demanding but not unreasonable. I can't give him enough compliments. He took the Jazz to a whole new level and put us on the brink of a couple championships. It would have been difficult without him.
SI.com: What percentage of plays did Jerry call from the sideline?
Stockton: Most of them. He saw things from a different perspective. I was always available to let him know what we wanted to do also. It wasn't like he was calling the shots and we were a bunch of robots. I was glad to have him and [assistant coach] Phil Johnson making those calls from the bench. It was our job just to execute them.
SI.com: It always seemed strange to me, you, one of the best point guards of all time, taking play calls from the bench
Stockton: We wanted to play fast -- and people didn't want to believe we played up-tempo, but we did -- but when it was time to slow it down you better be able to play that way. If you can't play slowly in this league, you can't win. And Jerry saw things from the bench that we didn't. But we did want to play fast. The fewer plays we called the better.
SI.com: What's the worst thing Jerry did to Greg Ostertag?
Stockton: (Laughs) Anything Jerry says you have to change the wording a little bit. Greg got his doses. Nobody went unscathed. Some guys were more focused than others. If you were more focused, you probably heard it less than the guys who were less focused. I wouldn't say Greg was the lone whipping boy, though.
SI.com: Did you ever want to leave Utah?
Stockton: No. Early on, when I didn't know what my fate was with the team, when I didn't know if they wanted me around or not, I wondered about other teams. Occasionally you would hear rumors or interest from other teams. But that was the extent of it. I never put myself in a position and the Jazz never let it get to a position where it was a possibility.
SI.com: In today's NBA, everyone is obsessed with free agency. Why didn't you want it?
Stockton: The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I don't know if I qualify as being on the same level of the guys that are doing that. You see a lot of phenomenal players today buddying up and creating a dynasty. I would rather have the team that I have, work at it, get better and try to win it that way. It's just my way. It's like how there are different ways in AAU to get it done. Some people go out and recruit. I prefer to have local kids and go to work. Just a personal preference.
SI.com: What playoff loss hurt the most?
Stockton: Either one of the Finals losses against Chicago. They were the greatest experiences and the most difficult finishes. But I wouldn't trade them for anything. It's difficult to lose something when you are so close to grasping it. You can see so many reasons why you did or didn't get it done, and yet the opportunity is one that I will cherish. To play in that environment is very special. The sad part about championships is that they are not often won when they are blowouts. They are two- or three-point games. One play can flip the game. That's the hard part. One play, one shot, one call can change anything. It's a lot of fun and a lot of disappointment, too.
SI.com: What's a day in the life of John Stockton these days?
Stockton: Well, it's kind of a mess of activities. There is not the same structure -- I don't have practice at 10, games at 7; I get to pick and choose my spots. But it's very busy. I'm in a number of businesses. I'm in a couple of construction projects. I'm doing a lot of coaching, some high school, some younger. When I first retired, I was an assistant on seven or eight teams at once.
SI.com: You still play pickup games?s
Stockton: Yep. Once a week.
SI.com: How's your game?
Stockton: It's a distance from what it was 10 years ago.
SI.com: Did you ever think about getting back into it?
Stockton: No. I had dreams about it. That was the closest thing. I never regretted the decision to retire. It was time. I had a great time playing, the best times of my life. But it was time. I was playing adequately. I was still enjoying the games. But my family was growing up. And sitting in the hotel room waiting for games wasn't making up for what I was missing at home. I wanted to change that. And I think my attitude has softened. I wasn't happy with where I would be as a competitor. I didn't want to go through the motions.
SI.com: Your old backcourt-mate, Jeff Hornacek, is now a head coach. Jason Kidd is now a head coach. A lot of guards have become head coaches. Ever think about it?
Stockton: I've thought about it. But even if I started right away, like Jason did, it wouldn't have answered the problem of wanting to spend more time with my family. I would be right back in that mold. If I was going to do that, I might as well play. I'd rather play. Playing is a lot more fun. Coaching is a rough business.
SI.com: Will we ever see you back in the NBA?
Stockton: I've never ruled it out. I have not sought it out either. It's just not time for me. I don't know that I'm an office guy in any way shape or form. If I were to come back, it would be on the coaching side.
SI.com: More challenging for John Stockton: Writing a book or doing all this publicity for the book?
Stockton: The interviews. Hopefully, though, the interviews are a lot more short lived.