Sunday, September 13, 2009

John Stockton

This past week was the induction ceremony of Michael Jordan to the NBA hall of fame. Growing up in the Chicago-land area during the Jordan dynasty, its impossible not to think of Jordan as a larger-than-life superhero type. All of us who had the Bulls short shorts, 3- peat white t-shirts, and "Steve Kerr: The Kerrminator" t-shirts remember the last second shots, the heroics, the championships. And yet, this is not the entire story. We were not really exposed to the gambling Jordan, the mean spirited Jordan, the public and messy divorce he experienced, and the competitive nature of Jordan that was so intense to scar his legacy and seemingly his person.

The speech of Jordan, I'm afraid, highlighted the latter portion of Jordan's legacy, the bitterness, the mean spirited competitiveness, the pettiness. Frankly, he came off not as a champion but as kind of a jerk. He even went so far as to point out how 'huge' of a mistake his highschool basketball coach made in not picking him for the team. Does the greatest player of all time really need to point that out to prove he is the greatest ever?

On the other side of the aisle, was John Stockton with his wife and 6 kids. Stockton had the misfortune to have his career in the shadow of Jordan's. Stockton's Utah Jazz were always just behind Jordan, always second best. Stockton was the Yan Ullrich to Jordan's Lance Armstrong. But, never-the-less, Stockton is one of the game's greatest point guards.

I watched Stockton's speech, which was genuine, self depreciating at times, and always correctly proportioned and in proper in context. He told of how he was never the best player on his team, and even not the best player in his own house (he only beat his brother once in all their years of playground games). He thanked all of the 'small' people in his life; his trainer, the team's owner, the people in the Jazz office (whom he mentioned by name), even the family's priest. As in his career, his behavior radiated with class and dignity. He showed how his priorities were always to his family, invoking stories of their dinner table and speaking to each of his children separately. All Jordan could say to his children was "I'm glad I'm not you guys." Stockton also spoke to his wife (herself one of 15 children) and thanked her for keeping their home truly a home while he was away on road trips with the team.

I suppose it was unfair for Stockton to have always been in Jordan's shadow during his career, accomplished though it was. But I suppose it was equally unfair to put Jordan up on the stage with possibly the most classy and dignified figures the NBA has ever known; John Stockton, Jerry Sloan, and David Robinson. These three athletes depicted all that is right with the NBA, and how with their generation's passing so also went the passing of the dignity of the NBA itself. Jordan, on the other hand, showed the passing of the torch from a team to an individual game, dominated by individual achievements, publicity, corporate sponsors.

The best example of this point, the passing of the NBA into a game dominated by individual achievement, is that while Jordan's Youtube video of his speech had a little over 97,000 views, Stockton's had only 307. I suppose a short white kid from Gonzaga with a big family just can't pack the same punch as the face of Gator aid, Hanes, Nike, and a generation of NBA stars.

No doubt, Jordan was the best ever, the best basketball player to play the game. This is uncontested. But, if I had to choose which line to take in terms of character and personal life even balanced with career achievements and accolades ... it would be no contest.


P.S. Stockton is also a Catholic so holler at yo boy!


Anonymous said...

This blog is INCREDIBLY accurate!

Thank you for so eloquently summarizing exactly how things are in today's NBA, and sadly in many other aspects of sports (and life) as well, most especially pro sports.

Jerry Sloan is indeed a very good character reference for the NBA, with a life similar in values to Stockton's.

And yes, this is a passing generation, and yes, has become an individual game of super egos and super salaries.

Another thing about Stockton is the fact that Deron Williams has benefitted so much under his tutelege. Deron went to the Jazz from the Illini as a pudgy, relatively immature guard with much latent talent.

To his credit, he actually has been a student, taught by Stockton about how to succeed in the NBA, both on and off the court. Of course, this has worked well for him, though not many know about it.

Another thing to consider. Why did Jordan really retire so young the first time? Some say it was a huge gambling issue and a way for the NBA and all to "save face". The truth? Who knows?

It's funny, whenever I would get time to watch the Bulls, Jordan always seemed to miss the last shot. Guess it was just me, but I was not overly impressed. Basketball is a great game, but it really is a team game. Look at Stockton's highlight reel. Look at the assists. Each night when looking at the sports section, I would find the box score for the Jazz and look at Stockton's assists, which were consistently very high. The Bulls won when Jordan had the right teammates, and not until then.

Good reference about pro-cycling. But look at what Lance is doing with his life. He praised and befriended Ulrich, respected and respects the Tour, respects and teaches other riders, and most of all, works hard to bring attention to the needs of cancer sufferers, something he does not need to do, but does anyway. Perfect? No. But he at least has respect.

What philantropy is Jordan in charge of? How many hours does he give? Think of what he could do for others with his fame.

Oh well, thanks again. It made me go to You Tube and watch Stockton's speech. Next time you are in Homewood, remind me and I will take out Payton's video.

John said...

On an equally sad note, if you google or look up on youtube "John Stockton's Hall of Fame Speech", half of the first screen's list of results is from Jordan's speech. MJ strikes again - what jerk.

Christopher J said...

Some people talk about a "God shaped whole" that every human being has. It cannot be filled with anything but Him and the more we try to fill it with something else the more and more it aches. Since the 'hole' is infinite, which is to say we can never be totally filled with God's presence in this life, whenever we try to fill it with something else we find that we must pour an infinite amount of that finite thing into it.

Famous examples would be insatiable drives for power (like Napolean) or for money or other created goods. But in that 'our hearts are restless until they rest in God', nothing else can suffice, nothing can come close to sufficing.

I would put Jordan's quest for domination, in this disordered category. His drive for ultimate domination is unparalleled and, combined with his natural gifts, his success was unparalleled. No one was ever as good as him or likely ever will be. But should anyone be?

His personal life seems to indicate that this drive has destroyed him, as if his soul believed enough rings or trophies would finally satisfy it -- enough humiliated foes would finally provide for his peace. We know that those things cannot afford peace though.

I feel pretty sorry for the guy, pretty clearly he's got a deep wound in his heart that spurs him on.

I think the Stockton comparison is a perfect one. A guy whose life is ordered, who knows what basketball is and what it isn't.