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Stockton-to-Malone Week: B-Russ Messes with Stock

August 11, 2010
Days from now, Karl Malone will join John Stockton and Jerry Sloan in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Let’s fete and honor the greatest duo in NBA history with Stockton-to-Malone Week. S2M Week is brought to you by my digital pack ratting, est. circa 1995.

[The Jazz had just arrived in Vancouver to play the Grizzlies, and their bus was late. The team normally would have waited on the plane until the bus arrived, but they’d had to disembark to clear customs since they were in Canada.]

When a group of tourists noticed the players sitting outside on benches, they started to approach with pens and slips of paper. In a flash, Stockton took off.

Hands in his pockets and carrying the small blue duffel bag that he always carried on the road, he walked casually away from the crowd and his teammates and slipped almost unnoticed behind one of the eight large concrete pillars–marked No. 4–that divided the parking bays. But his teammates knew what he was doing.

After one man asked for and received Malone’s autograph, he asked about Stockton. Russell jumped in and pointed down the sidewalk.

“He’s right down there,” Russell said. “Go ask him for his autograph.”

The man started walking, hesitantly, and looked back intermittently as if for the players’ approval. They did nothing but encourage him.

“Number four!” they shouted. “Number four!”

The words were still echoing off the conrete walls when, on the other side of the pillar, Stockton emerged, walking briskly across several lanes of traffic to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. He turned left and kept going, away from the airport, as the other players roared.

“John! John!” they shouted. “Come back, John!”

Even from across the street, the smile could be seen on Stockton’s face.

Stockton had walked a loop around some shrubbery that bordered a parking lot to wind up on the other side of where the players were waiting, and was trying to lose himself in the anonymity of the coaching staff.

Russell was giddy.

“There he is!” he told [a pair of female autograph seekers]. “That’s John Stockton! Go ask him for his autograph!”

Stockton heard Russell, but knew better than to look, and the women were caught between embarrassment and intrigue. They walked towards Stockton and the coaches, then stopped and looked back to see if they were doing right by Russell’s instructions.

“Just ask him!” Russell hollered, laughing. “He won’t say no.”

Hesitantly, the women approached the group, and made their move by addressing first the nearest of the coaches, strength coach Mark McKown, instead of Stockton.

Russell turned to his teammates and rolled his eyes. “She’s asking Mark for his autograph,” he reported.

It wasn’t but a moment, then, before the women returned to Russell and said something too quiet to be overheard.

“Busy?” said Russell, theatrically squinting to find Stockton among the group. “He’s not busy! He’s standing there with his hands in his pockets! He’s not doing anything. Go ask!”

Behind Russell, the Jazz’s bus finally pulled into its space, and Stockton saw it coming before anybody else. Without a word, he strode away from the coaches and behind the concrete pillars past Russell and the women and climbed onto the bus almost before it stopped moving.

“There he goes!” Russell yelped. “Get him! Ask him for his autograph!”

It was too late.

[“To the Brink,” by Michael C. Lewis]

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