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On Stock and Jerry

September 11, 2009

In the event that my emotional jumble can be turned into coherent words and sentences:

I never saw Stock play when he looked like this, all young and fresh-faced. By the time I discovered the Jazz and the NBA (Jazz fan from Day 1 and proud of it), Stock was in his ninth season and 30 years old–an age when most players, and small guys in particular, have started rapidly depreciating. By the time I became a Jazz fanatic, Stock was already a grizzled veteran with those deepset lines around his mouth. Even so, I got to watch him play at what still felt like his peak for 11–eleven!!–amazing, wonderful seasons.

Deaths and illnesses in the family aside, John Stockton announcing his retirement was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me in my then-young life. Whether that makes me a fortunate person, extremely shallow, or too obsessed with basketball is up for debate. But I couldn’t keep the tears from falling, my heart felt like it was breaking, and I couldn’t imagine the future without him.

A lot of the Stockton videos posted on in the past few weeks brought new tears, but this one got the uncontrollable-hiccupy-sob-stamp-of-approval, six years after the fact (and will always be something I’ll appreciate Kings fans for):

Every John Stockton article talks about his stats and unbreakable records, but what’s most impressive to me is the 22 total missed games in 19 seasons–4 in ’89-’90 and 18 in ’97-’98 after undergoing surgery. In the other 17 seasons, he had a 100% attendance rate. If you take a look at the all-time games played list, Stock is the only guard on the list. The rest are all big men. And what did he do during all those games?

When players are past their prime, you can tell. But this was not the case with John Stockton. Sure, in his late thirties and into his forties, he had more difficulty staying in front of his [much younger] man than before, and Jerry monitored his minutes carefully. However, his court vision and his basketball acumen were as sharp as ever. His passes never became sloppy. His shot stayed just as accurate. His turnovers never went up. His efficiency never declined. Per 36 and across the board, he was as good as ever at the age of 40. And I don’t think I’m off base to say that this player and this stability is something that only Jazz fans have experienced, and can understand and fully appreciate.

To steal the words of UtonganKidInCali over on slcdunk:

…when [Stockton] was on the court, there was a calmness I think every Jazz fan had. That we could trust him to lead the team to a win. I remember when we would be down by ten to fifteen points in the 4th with 5 minutes to go and watching this man go to work and we would win the game. Those were good memories that I thank him for.

“I had to walk a mile in the snow to get to school.” In Jerry Sloan’s case, this was actually true, except it was 16 miles. And before the youngest of ten children in a single parent home hitchhiked those 16 miles to school every day, he got up at 4:30 a.m. to do farm chores. Basketball practice started at 7 a.m., and he never missed a single one, because he loved to play and to compete that much.

He’s never had anything handed to him. Everything he has, he’s earned through hard work (even in high school; his future wife Bobbye wouldn’t go out with him because he was shorter than she was, but he eventually won her over). After his playing days ended (two-time All-Star, six-time All-Defense), his number became the first to ever be retired by the Bulls. The Bulls were also responsible for the first time he was fired, which happened a few years later. When Frank Layden resigned mid-season in 1988, Jerry went around the locker room shaking everyone’s hands and bawling because he’d truly believed that he’d never get the chance to coach again.

He doesn’t BS. He doesn’t try to be politically correct or sugarcoat things. He has a potty mouth and a famous doghouse. What you see is what you get. What he says is how it is. He takes no credit for the 1,100+ wins, and takes all the blame for the losses. The losses, rather than the wins or milestones, are the games that stick in his mind. Like Stock, he shuns attention and accolades, and truly believes that he was just at the right place at the right time, that he was lucky.

He didn’t quit on his team when his superstars retired (that ’03-’04 team was incredibly fun to watch, by the way). He didn’t quit on his team when the team sucked. He didn’t quit on his team when he needed surgery, or use surgery as an excuse to quit on the team when the team sucked. And because of that, and because of Larry H. Miller: Longest tenured coach in North American sports. 1,000 wins with one franchise. 230+ coaching changes since he became Jazz head coach.

Jerry gets the best out of his players. Every single player that ever left the Jazz (with the exception of Mo Williams, but that was really a business decision and he was with the Jazz for only one year), career-wise, was never heard from again. And Mo Williams would be the first person to tell you that Jerry was the one that taught him how to be a point guard. I can’t imagine the day when someone else is stalking the ESA sidelines and cursing the refs. I hope that day never comes.

They were their own men, and, in many ways, three of a kind: Stock with his short shorts and hair and hiding from the media in the trainer’s room, Karl with his trucks and hunting and wrestling, Jerry with his tractors and farming and country sayings. No nonsensical Chinese tattoos, no earrings, no Armani suits, no slicked back hair, no sideline thrones. Just three guys whose sole focus was winning, that came to play every night, and worked harder than anyone else on and off the court. And everything they achieved, they achieved through hard work and burning competitiveness. And everything they achieved, they achieved with humility and loyalty. What more can you ask for as a fan?

Bulls/Lakers fans (Spurs fans are a reflection of the Spurs, and by that I mean, they are quiet, mind their own business, and let the wins do the talking) have a ton of titles to write home about, but many of them, or at least the ones that use the Internet, seem to prefer spending their time trying to detract from other teams’/players’ success by gloating about their lack of rings–rather than being happy about the ones they have. Now, I don’t know what bred such sensitivity and insecurity in them (and yes, I know that Jazz fans have a reputation for being ultrasensitive blah blah blah), but at the end of the day, I know that Stock and Sloan (and Malone) gave it everything they could, and that means no regrets for me.

So do I lament and cry over the fact that they never won a championship? I do not. While I would have loved for these guys to have gotten one or some, because I know that it’s something they wanted and fought for, the lack of rings matters to me, the fan, not at all. What means the most to me is the type of players/coach they were/are, and that they fought tooth and nail for the win every single night.

And although I know that these two men will hate every single second they have to stand on stage listening to people say nice things about them, it will do my heart good to see them getting the recognition and honor that they so deeply, deeply deserve. There will never be another John Stockton, another Karl Malone, and especially not another Stockton-to-Malone. S2M+Sloan was a match made in Heaven. There are no two ways about it.

Two asides:
1) All the sportswriters that have written articles about Stock and Jerry in recent weeks weren’t able to do it, and neither can I. “It” being writing on this subject without mentioning Karl. In case my elderly person’s memory forgets this particular sentiment by this time next year, let me say it now. A lot of what I wrote above about Stock and Sloan apply to Karl as well. And every minute that I am forced to endure Carlos Boozer’s presence on my beloved Jazz, every minute that I am exposed to his existence, makes me appreciate Karl Malone that much more.

2) What the hell was up with Ernie Johnson’s introduction for Jerry into the HOF? In just 30 seconds, he (or whoever wrote his script) managed to butcher Jerry’s entire coaching history.

First he said that Jerry got his coaching start as an assistant for the Bulls in 1997 (WRONG–1978); then he said that Jerry has nearly 1,100 wins for his career (WRONG; it’s 1,136 to date); and then he said Jerry won the NBA COY award in 2004 (it was completely egregious that Jerry didn’t win the COY award in ’04, but he didn’t win that year or any other year. So again, WRONG).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2009 1:33 am

    Great article.

    Missed the Ernie Johnson intro, though. Wow. He seriously said that? Whoever wrote his script must be in a lot of trouble.


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