John Stockton: The Interview
Posted Jan 15 2003 2:12PM
Utah's legendary point guard gives a rare sit-down interview to HOOP
Itís a matter of fact that John Stockton is one of the three best point guards of all-time (only Magic and Cousy compare in this discussion).
Itís a matter of fact that even at 40 -- an age when every NBA point guard has retired -- John Stockton is still one of the best PGs in the game today. Who else but Stock could lead the Utah Jazz against a star-studded Sacramento Kings lineup in a nail-biting í02 playoff series and come away with a win and three last-minute losses?
Hoop: How important was playing the Kings hard in last yearís playoffs to rejuvenating yourself and your teammates for this season? Did you guys talk about it all offseason?
Stockton: I hope thereís a lot of carryover from that series. I think we had played the whole season not thinking we were good enough to compete against that kind of a team, and we found out that we were. Hopefully everybody took that home and felt bad yet good about it, and got excited about this year. We talk about it now, but in the offseason, we go home and have our own workout regimes. I think Andrei [Kirilenko] played for Russia. We donít stop and call each other a lot and visit, but we have those discussions now that weíre together.
Hoop: Does Andrei need to be a star for this team to be an NBA Championship contender?
Stockton: No, I donít think anybody needs to be a star for this team. Thatís a point Iíd like everybody to understand. Five stars donít get it done, but 12 really good players who are dedicated to each other, they get it done. If we can do that, we can play with anybody.
Hoop: We marveled at your play last year. Even though you played fewer minutes per game, you seemed to be more effective in the minutes you did play. Perhaps your greatest season ever -- your shooting percentage was astronomical for a point guard [.517, making Stockton the only point guard in the NBAís top 20 in field-goal percentage]. Despite your team being less talented on paper than in years past, you got a lot out of it in the playoffs. Do you see yourself getting older and better?
Stockton: [Smiles] I wish that were the case.
Hoop: Even though itís fewer minutes per game, when you are on the court...
Stockton: Well, thereís a tradeoff. There are things you canít do now that you could do when you were 23 years old. On the other hand, youíve learned a lot over the course of those 18-19 years, to make that seem not as evident. You try to take shots youíre capable of. When youíre younger, you might make some shots youíre not normally capable of, because youíre more fluid, maybe stronger, maybe faster. As you get older, you learn not to take those crazy shots. If that makes you more efficient, then in a sense, you can be better without being better. But Iím not claiming that.
Hoop: Some people refuse to admit when theyíre sick. They just say, "I canít get sick," because that is their mindset. Is that the same thing that you go through when people ask you if youíre injured and how bad it is? Where your mind is stronger than your body? Youíve played in every game in 16 of your 18 seasons.
Stockton: Well, I donít...boy, thereís a lot of things that fit into that equation, and Iím not sure I can cover them all. I donít like to give in to injuries. I donít like to use them as excuses. Everybody has them. I think everybody should have the attitude that you canít allow yourself to be hurt. You avoid a lot just with that attitude. I donít know. [Thatís] why I donít wish to discuss it -- itís past. I always prefer to look forward.
Hoop: Who instilled that mindset in you, or was that something that you were born with?
Stockton: Whatever principles I have, obviously you get at home from your parents and you grow up with from your family. Whether that applies to that or if itís some sort of evolution from that, I donít know. I always have to point back to your upbringing, and if you stick with that, itís pretty good for you.
Hoop: Karl Malone has the same mindset, too. Did you guys ever get united in the beginning and say, "This is what we are as a team," or was it something you two brought to the table separately?
Stockton: Well, to a degree we probably have some effect on each other that way. I have tremendous faith, for example, that heís coming to camp in great shape. That helps me in my workouts, knowing that heís gonna be working extremely hard getting here, and I know that helps him when heís on the treadmill knowing that Iím on the stairstepper in my home. We do feed off each other quite a bit, but it might not be directly.
Hoop: When you talk about your parents instilling those principles in you, do you do the same with your six children?
Stockton: I try to. They donít get to miss school with a sniffle, things like that. Essentially, when you join a team, youíre making a commitment to your team. You canít take that lightly. Yeah, if youíre truly injured, you can sit out a game or practice and not make it worse. But little "owwies" youíve got to play through for the sake of the squad.
Hoop: In what other ways do you instill that team mentality in your children?
Stockton: You donít get out of dishes because youíre tired [laughs].
Hoop: How arduous are your summer workouts?
Stockton: Well, you never hear somebody say they gave 90 percent or 80 percent. They always say, "I gave 110 [percent]." So I donít know if itís arduous or not. I know that itís worked for me. Iíve gotten great advice for years from a trainer at Gonzaga, Steve DeLong. We donít do [everything] right away. He gets me started slowly into it, so that I donít injure myself getting ready. Itís worked for me. Whether itís more arduous or less than somebody elseís [routine], I couldnít tell you.
Hoop: How many hours are you working? What types of weights are you doing?
Stockton: It depends. The weights depend. Everything depends. If, for example, you hurt yourself lifting weights, well, itís probably not a good idea to lift weights there for a while, and you figure out other ways to get in shape or stay in shape without that particular program. So itís never been a static, set thing.
Hoop: Former UCLA coach John Wooden has said that there was only one person in the NBA heíd pay to see, and that was you. Coming from one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, what does that mean to you?
Stockton: Heís been very kind to me over the years. Iíve even expressed to him my gratitude for that. When something nice is said by a man like him, period, it means a lot. But I donít think you sit there and pass it on back and forth a whole lot. But Iím very thankful.
Hoop: He also told me he was having problems with his knees and that you said, "Come up here. I know a guy. You could stay with me." He never took you up on that offer, but he told me how touched he was by you doing that.
Stockton: I wish I had more of a connection with him. As I mentioned, heís said some very kind things. Iíve been fortunate to meet and speak with him on a number of occasions, but I also donít want to overstate it. The honor is entirely mine. Thatís about it.
Hoop: How do you make all these great decisions on the court? Is it by watching film? Is it just by repetition? Is it by play?
Stockton: I make bad decisions, too. I think the big thing, and it came from a long time ago, is that you just donít give up. I make a lot of mistakes. As you get older, people say, "You donít make many mistakes," and "You lose a step," and Iím not sure either is true. All you can do is keep trying, regardless of what happened the play before.
Hoop: Iím not asking you to dog any past teammates -- thatís not what Iím fishing for -- but a lot of your former teammates saw their play drop off when they left Utah. I interpret that as you making them better players than they were without you. Do you agree?
Stockton: No, I think thatís true with a lot of trades, and itís not just from us to elsewhere. I think guys excel in one particular system for a reason. Itís not necessarily because of the players they play with. Maybe the system works for them. Maybe theyíre more comfortable in that town. Thereís a whole bunch of reasons why. When youíve played for a long period of time in one area and you switch environments, I think thatís a very difficult situation to go to. So, no, if Iíve understood your question, I donít take any credit. Or even the system. Itís just the nature of the beast sometimes in trades. Sometimes a guy comes in and it ignites his career, and other times itís a less comfortable situation for him.
Hoop: We did a study and in the last 19 years, every NBA champion team -- with the exception of one -- had four main players who had played together for at least three seasons. Thatís what the Utah Jazz are all about, and itís also the best-kept secret to winning.
Stockton: It hasnít been a revolving door here, and I think that helps. If you can do that, and have great players while youíre doing it, then thatís the secret. But if you donít have great players and you keep them around forever, then, no, youíre not gonna succeed. You have to have both. You need talent in this League for sure.
Hoop: Whatís your fondest memory of a game?
Stockton: The one, going to the [Finals] the first time, when we beat Houston.
Hoop: The í97 Western Conference Finals where you were jumping up and down with that game-winning shot? [After defeating the Rockets, Utah went on to lose to the Jordan-era Bulls in six.]
Stockton: It was just the culmination of a lot of years of work, being beaten by that team a lot in the playoffs and then finally making it over the hump. That was it.
Hoop: When you were jumping up and down and uncharacteristically letting it whoop, what was going through your mind?
Stockton: A lot, a lot. Or a little. I donít know what was going on in my mind right then. Definitely my fondest memory though.
Hoop: Fondest memory of Karl?
Hoop: Well, Iím sure this next question is personal, too. Fondest memory of family?
Stockton: Definitely personal.
Hoop: Fondest memory of Coach Jerry Sloan?
Stockton: Heís just a great coach to work for. I donít know if I have any one particularly fond memory. Thereíve been so many times when he has come to the rescue just by being who he is. I donít even think he realizes it.
Hoop: Whatís it like to look back at all the young point guards youíve groomed over the years -- NBA teammates and even college players at Gonzaga [Stocktonís alma mater] who work out with you in the summer? Whatís it like for you to see them grow as players?
Stockton: I donít know how you take credit for any of that. I think anybody who plays, and gets attention for playing, people draw from them. I know I drew from Magic Johnson, Rickey Green, Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, I canít think of all the names of high-school players, Terry Kelly, Mike Kelly, my own brother, a teammate I had in grade school, Steve Brown. All these guys you draw from, and you donít even necessarily intentionally do it. You just see them do something thatís successful, and all of a sudden you absorb it. I donít know that you can take credit for [grooming others] other than itís helped somebody. But then again itís not tangible.
Hoop: Can you give up any secrets you learned from those people -- from Magic to Steve Brown?
Stockton: No, I donít know that you can. Iíve thought about this a lot. I donít know that you can ask a guy why he succeeds, have him answer and have it be accurate. He might know why he thinks he succeeds, but there are a lot of nuances that I donít think you know youíre doing. You just kind of play.
Hoop: Youíre the only point guard in NBA history to be 40 and still running a team. [Stockton, who is 6-1, 175 pounds, will turn 41 in March.] Why is that?
Stockton: Iíve been fortunate, for one. You canít do anything about certain injuries. You just hope to avoid those. You can avoid some of those by staying in shape. You pat yourself on the back, I guess, for that sometimes, because you donít allow yourself to get out of shape. You try to take care of yourself. You eat right, sleep right. I mentioned the luck. You have to have great care, which we do, both our medical staff and our chiropractor, who lives by me. Heís kind of a healer. His name is Craig Bewer. Heís got a whole system; I donít think I can play without it. Outside of that, thereís nothing else.
Hoop: On the same note, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan are two other approaching-40 guys who are still on top of their game. Is there a new breed of athlete who can still do it at age 40?
Stockton: I donít know. I never think in that scope. Iím just trying to get my own dogs out on the floor that given day and let you guys think about it.
Hoop: Speaking of your own dogs, do you ever have doubts in your mind, and if so, how do you get rid of them?
Stockton: Everybody has doubts. At least, I think everybody does. I donít know if thatís ever changed for me. Iíve always had doubts -- given nights, given seasons, given whatever. And I try to forget about them along the way.
Hoop: How do you do that?
Stockton: Just go play. Itís really a game. Just go play. The doubts go away if you play well.