It took John Stockton a career to accumulate his 15,086 assists, 3,265 steals, and 19,713 points. In one day he received a key to Salt Lake City, an honorary day, a letter from the President, and a street that will bare his name. Not bad for a retirement ceremony the guard was reluctant to attend. It wasn’t until Jazz owner Larry Miller and his wife Nada “double teamed” him, as Stockton said, that he agreed to go.
In the ceremony on June 7th that nearly filled the Delta Center to capacity, Stockton heard from a variety of speakers including a letter from President Bush congratulating him on his retirement. That was followed by Utah’s First Lady, who read a letter from the Governor proclaiming June 7th John Stockton Day in Utah, and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson who gave the guard the key to the city. Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman presented Stockton with a replica of the street sign that will bear his name on 300 W, directly in front of the Delta Center – John Stockton Drive.
The event was a way for the public and the orginization to pay homage to their point guard of 19 years. Two days after the season ended, Stockton quickly announced his retirement during the team's locker room clean out day. Shortly after Jazz owner Larry Miller began planning an event where the public could send Stockton off.
Among speakers for the event was NBA Commissioner David Stern, who after being invited by Larry Miller, left San Antonio where the Spurs and Nets are in the middle of the NBA Finals. Worried, the Commissioner would not be able to attend the event, Miller was reassured when Stern returned his call and said he would make the trip from San Antonio. During his speech the Commissioner told Stockton the league was working on a six disc DVD collection for the point guard featuring his greatest playoff moments. “Thank you for gracing our court, and if you change your mind you don’t have to give the (DVD’s) back,” said Stern.
"There absolutely, positively, will never ever be another John Stockton – ever."
-- Karl Malone
On the more emotional side of the night were Coach Jerry Sloan and long time teammate Karl Malone. Sloan, who coached Stockton either as an assistant or head coach each of his 19 seasons, noticeably struggled to fight off tears when speaking about the player. “I really thought you were going to be able to go forever,” said Sloan. “And in our minds you’ll always be there forever because of the what you represented.” As Sloan finished speaking he took a short pause as he looked straight at Stockton, speaking on behalf of the coaches, and said “don’t forget about us.”
Shortly after Karl Malone, the power forward John Stockton spent all but one season with, spoke for what would be the longest sentiments of the night. Malone thanked Stockton for treating him with respect, no matter what color he was, a hurdle Malone said he often faced in his birthplace of Louisiana. Malone also made a sentimental apology to Stockton, “a number of days, a number of games, I did take you for granted,” said a teary eyed Malone. “Because I knew when the going got tough number 12 would always synch it up a notch.”
Malone, who in a press conference afterwards, acknowledged he was still in disbelief of Stockton’s retirement “I never thought you would ever stop playing ball,” said Malone. “I hope and I pray people realize a couple of things. There absolutely, positively, will never ever be another John Stockton – ever." Malone said as some of his last comments of the event.
Yet, this may not be the last time the two are together on the Delta Center floor. Jazz officials said plans are underway for a jersey retirement for Stockton, though the event may still be over a year away.
Larry Miller, who read a letter he wrote that was published in Utah newspapers, described the point guard that helped lead the Jazz to two NBA Final appearances as, “thoroughbred” and “exactly how you hope he is.”
But the speaker, who fans waited in lines outside the Delta Center to see, was Stockton himself. Stockton was quick to acknowledge the fans and gave the public a chance to see the sense of humor in his personality that he rarely displays, “thanks to all of you for coming our tonight,” said the guard. “Even if you had to be bribed with hot dogs to do it.”
In a speech that gave a short synopsis of his career and the people he had met over the course of his time in the league, Stockton thanked his first coach with the Jazz, Frank Layden, for giving him some good advice. Layden told Stockton never to change the person he was once he entered the league. Years later Stockton has kept that advice close to his heart. “I haven’t changed a thing,” Stockton joked “I haven’t even changed the length of my shorts.”
Stockton was so worried he would only last in the NBA for his first initial season that he held out for an extra $5,000 in his rookie season. In an era where cars and jewelry seem to be the norm for NBA rookies, Stockton’s first purchase as a player didn’t occur until he had been in Salt Lake for four months.
The Spokane, Washington native purchased a television for his one bedroom apartment so he could watch the Super Bowl.
In closing Stockton again thanked all of the fans that have continually supported the Jazz through his time with the team and thanked the man he will forever be linked with, Karl Malone. “He’s a great great friend of mine,” said Stockton. “And I’m thankful were part of each other’s family’s.”