John Stockton’s Autobiography, “Assisted” — A Review
In the preface of “Assisted,” John Stockton’s friend/editor/co-author, Kerry L. Pickett, says the book is Stockton’s answer to the question, “How did this wonderful life come to find me?”
Stockton stuck to answering this question, and perhaps predictably eschewed talk of his stats, records, milestones and personal achievements. NBA career record for assists and steals? No mention. Breaking 1,000 assists for a season seven times, when no one else ever did it more than once? No mention. Selected to 10 All-Star Games? No mention. His unparalleled (except by Karl Malone) durability? No mention, except in praise to his trainers and medical staff.
Then again, the very fact that he even wrote an autobiography throws all predictability out the window.
Unpredictably, Stockton does share embarrassing anecdotes (wetting his pants during a Little League game), private moments (how he proposed), and personal beliefs (views on abortion).
In “Assisted,” Stockton takes us inside his life and family history (dating back generations to Declaration of Independence signee Richard Stockton). Along the way, we also get a look at the inner workings of the Utah Jazz under Larry H. Miller and Jerry Sloan — and it’s everything we thought it was. Loyalty; trust; friendship; and perhaps an unprecedented balance between personal and professional relationships.
For me, the best part of the book was getting to see the truly special relationship Stockton had with both Larry H. Miller and Jerry Sloan, and the truly special dynamic that existed between the players on the 1990s teams, the coaches, and ownership. It is a striking contrast to what we see today, and the book paints a very clear picture of why the Jazz teams of the 1990s were able to have the consistent success that they did.
On his relationship with LHM, Stockton said, “We both could endure insults and compliments without ill will, and we didn’t need to baby the relationship.”
In one of Stockton’s last contract negotiations with LHM, they didn’t even talk money. Stockton told LHM to give him what he thought was a fair amount and he would sign it, with the condition that he’d be allowed to partake in physical activities and sports with his kids. LHM had Stockton write the provision into the contract himself, and sent it to the league exactly as Stockton wrote it, along with an amount that made Stockton the highest paid point guard in the league.
While Stockton was initially nervous to meet Jerry Sloan due to Jerry’s “tough” reputation–and their first handshake only added to that impression–their friendship eventually grew to where they (and other players, coaches, and Hot Rod Hundley) would find themselves hanging out together at the hotel bar on road trips:
“Things that frustrated us about their coaching or vice versa cold be unearthed in this removed and more relaxed atmosphere. The discussions were never hostile; they were open and sometimes animated. Feathers didn’t get ruffled as real and important sentiments were aired. Serious issues or specific details about someone’s play were fair game…
These informal exchanges made us better players and they better coaches. We could see each other’s perspective.”
When thoughts of retirement first started dancing in Stockton’s head, he was determined that he’d go out on his own terms. Not due to pride or to protect his legacy, but because he didn’t want LHM or Jerry to be in the position of having to cut him. Externally, an abrupt shift in team culture occurred when Jeff Hornacek hung up his sneakers.
Stockton doesn’t mention Mark Jackson by name (way too classy!), but he talks about how in his final season, some of the newly-signed vets were offended by any connections or friendships players had with coaches, mandatory weight training and conditioning, and Jerry’s practice of resting him and Karl during some practices. Stockton takes responsibility for choosing to withdraw rather than confront these issues, which he says would not have happened in prior years.
Entourages were suddenly ever-present. Plane and bus rides became lonely affairs because the young kids always had their headphones on. Instead of eating with teammates on road trips, Stockton ate more room service in his last season than in his first 18 seasons combined. As a result, he became more and more aware, in the solitude of his hotel rooms, of what he was missing out on at home.
In 2003, I was well aware that John Stockton had turned 41 some months ago. I knew–in theory–that he couldn’t play forever. At the same time, he’d been a consistent constant in my fandom for 11 years, he was still playing at a high level, and I had never known the Jazz without him. The thought of him retiring and disappearing from my life had never crossed my mind. And so, when he suddenly announced that he was finished at locker room cleanout, it turned my world upside-down.
Only now–10 years after the fact–do and can I understand why Stockton chose to retire when he did. Apart from getting a behind-the-scenes look into Stockton’s family life and professional career that none of us ever thought we’d be privy to, that’s what “Assisted” gave me.
In conclusion: I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but “Assisted” is a must-must-must-must-must-read for all Jazz fans.
** The no-headband, same-socks, tucked-in-jersey rule commonly attributed to Jerry Sloan actually originated with Frank Layden. Jerry continued the tradition when he became head coach, telling players if they wanted to stand out, they could stand out with their play.
** Chris Morris’ nickname was “C-Mo”; Greg Foster’s was “G-Force.” Adam Keefe had “unearthly white legs.”
** Read the book to find out why an armed SWAT team descended on Nada Stockton when she was trying to do laundry in Barcelona, and what Clyde Drexler had to do with it.
** Cities where members of the 1996 Olympic team had special relationships with police would try to top each other with the police escorts and drill team performances during the team’s barnstorming tour before the Olympics. Karl Malone was represented by Salt Lake. :)
** Some rule changes were made after the 1998 season, with one of the points of emphasis being illegal screens. The NBA’s video illustration of illegal screens starred Stockton and Hornacek “terrorizing” opponents. To this day, Stockton questions how those screens were hurting the game, especially since the Finals had just concluded with sky-high ratings.
** The day before he announced his retirement, Stockton was still struggling with the decision. He talked to Karl and Nada and thought he told them he was retiring, but he could only speak in generalities and neither understood what he was telling them. As a result, Karl heard about it from the media and Nada had no clue what he meant when he called home after the announcement and said, “I did it.” While Nada was letting John have it, Karl was on call waiting, waiting to also let John have it.