During his 19-year NBA career, John Stockton was known as one of the league’s most efficient players. Every move he made on the court had a purpose. He played in 10 All-Star games and notched the NBA record for career assists and steals before retiring in 2003 and being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. But, despite his popularity and on-court success, playing in Utah allowed Stockton to avoid the spotlight and live a largely private life.
Recently, Stockton co-authored a book about his life and career with his former youth coach, Kerry L. Pickett. Assisted is a candid look at how Stockton became an NBA hero despite lacking the size and strength of other athletes. We spoke to Stockton at the NBA Store during his book tour.
MF: Why did you do this book?
JS: We chose the book. There’s a void. I do a lot of things with my children, there’s a lot of activities I do but most of them take place in the afternoon. I thought “I gotta figure out something I can do with myself that’s challenging and entertaining at the same time” and so I approached the subject with my old coach and we took on a project. It’s been a good struggle and good battle but it’s over and now we’re here.
MF: For the people who haven’t gone through the book yet, can you say a little about what they might read in it?
JS: I’m an unlikely story. You look at me, you talk to me, you can see I’m not your prototypical NBA player and I’ve received some very nice awards and yet that’s not the story. The story is all the people that contributed along the way without seeking credit, without seeking any bright lights and how important those parts are in the overall product. I tell a lot of stories about my youth, growing up, times at Gonzaga, times with the [Utah] Jazz, times with the Olympic teams, and hopefully it makes a good story.
MF: Talk about the process of writing a book.
JS: I literally walked into my old coach’s office, my old coach was my 6- to 8th-grade coach. He’s a very well-read man, and I asked, “What do you think about it?” So he said, “Yeah, I think we should take a look at it.” We talked about ideas, he wrote down some notes, and he sent me on assignments. He said, “Okay, go write about this time in your life.” So I just went to writing. Pen in hand, piece of paper, on a couch, and I’d present it to him, he’d make some suggestions, we’d adjust it, so we didn’t know if it ever would become a book, we just wanted to go through the exercise, and here we are. The people who write for a living are special…this was hard.
MF: Can you tell me a little about how the NBA has changed? How do you think the game has changed? In any way? Could you play today?
JS: I believe I could. I don’t think it’s changed that much. I still think there’s a place for people that play a certain way. Our style would be different in the group and it might even work in our favor. It is different though. There’s a lot of 1-on-1, there’s a lot of spreading the court, guys creating on their own, and we’d try to use each other a little bit more back in our time and try to make each other better that way.
MF: As far as the guys you see playing in the game today, who do you think if you just had to name three guys or talk about three guys, who do you think are the three best point guards in the league today?
JS: Best is always a slippery word, because it presumes there’s one way to play it. Even in my time there was Kevin Johnson, Mark Price, Magic Johnson, myself, Isaiah Thomas, I mean you look at each guy, phenomenal players, very difficult to play and yet, not one of them played even close to the same. So to make that assessment today, I see less games because I’m watching my sons and daughters in high school and whatnot, so I see less games. I saw a lot of Tony Parker, I enjoyed watching him last year in the finals or even in the playoffs, but I don’t get a chance to see anybody on a given day.
MF: Could you tell me a little about when you were in the league, like you said you were a smaller guy, how did you prepare? Did you have to do extra things physically to get yourself ready? Did you do any weightlifting, did you do a lot of cardio, stuff like that?
JS: Sure, I don’t know what I did extra. I had a workout plan that Steve DeLong, who was a trainer at Gonzaga, gave to me, and I worked through for years. I had people supplement that with ideas here and there, but we had to go do the work. It just stayed a consistent part of our lives. So it’s not extra to us—we did a lot of shooting, we did a lot of running, we did a lot of lifting, but we did it with a plan. Whether it was more or less than what anybody else was doing I couldn’t tell you.
MF: Two-part question: What was your proudest moment in the NBA? And what’s your proudest moment now that you’re outside of the NBA?
JS: Proudest moment in the NBA was making it to the Finals. Obviously we didn’t win a championship, but making it through the conference finals and winning that first time in Houston, getting our first chance to play in the Finals was probably the highlight for me. We hadn’t done it before, we had to put some demons to bed that day because we had lost to a number of these guys a number of times so it was a long, long thing to overcome, so that was probably my proudest moment then. Since then I think it happens daily. I’m very proud of my family. My children are becoming good people, and I get to see that on a daily basis and that’s what I’m here for, to try to be a good parent. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but my children are picking me up so to speak, to use a little slang there.
MF: Last thing, Mr. Stockton. You’re obviously in my mind and in the minds of a lot of other people’s probably one of the greatest point guards that ever lived, and one revered player. Do you ever think that you would have liked to have won a championship as a hang-over, does it bother you a little bit?
JS: Not as a hang-over at all. I laid it all out there for 19 years and I didn’t get it done. If you can’t put that kind of effort in and walk away from it and go, “Hey that’s the best I could do” then I do think you’d have regrets, but I have none. I loved my teammates, I loved the organization I played in, and I loved my time there, so it didn’t happen, maybe that just means I have a bigger plan for myself that I gotta accomplish.