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Dick Harmon: Sloan and Stockton: Two of a rare kind

Published: Tuesday, April 7 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jerry Sloan and John Stockton, it's official.

They've always been linked in so many ways but after Monday's official announcement they'll forever be welded with joint-entrance into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

They are the last of a dying breed of old school basketball figures, so it's only fitting they enter the Great Hall shoulder-to-shoulder, in lockstep, and do so with the legendary Michael Jordan.

Sloan and Stockton. Will we ever see this kind of duo again? Will two guys like this appear on the NBA scene again, let alone together?

No, afraid not.

Sloan and Stockton, old-school icons, linked at the hip. They're the big-finned, carburetor-fed Chevy and Ford on a street filled with glittery GPS-guided, fuel-injected rollers laced with all the shiny trim that scream self-indulgence, pomp and pretense.

They represent the artistry of the game when it was Xs and Os instead of a choreographed dance with a ball.

They're old-school survivors of a game that's turned playground instead of chess match; look-at-me instead of team; execution over one-on-one get to the rim, get-out-of-my-way play.

Old school, as in really putting effort on defense, setting picks and taking charges, perfecting the pick and roll. And passing the ball.

They're old-school purists who got to the Hall without a marketing firm, advertising campaigns or CDs. They did it without baggy shorts, medallions hung on thick chains, slicked-back hair or red-carpet treatment.

Imagine anybody in the league wearing Stockton shorts today. Nobody will ever touch his record 15,806 assists but who knows, fashion trends may bring back those shorts.

Sloan and Stockton.

They didn't need tattoos to accentuate muscle or tell their stories in a game where their play was the ultimate bottom line and did all the talking.

Sloan's pack? His entourage was his late wife Bobbye and now it is new wife Tammy. Stockton's posse was his wife Nada and kids, no need or desire for more.

USA Today columnist Mike Lopresi once penned, "If Jerry Sloan were a Christmas tree, he wouldn't have a single ornament."

Of Stockton, legendary John Wooden once said he is the only NBA player he'd ever pay to watch.

Sloan has worked as a coach at the same job longer than anybody in American professional sports.

Stockton, the NBA's all-time assists and steal leader, was playing in this league into his 40s, a time many of his peers had hung it up for mansion keeping.

Old school, as when many teams in the league were going to those black shoes, Stockton lobbied amongst his team to keep it traditional, "we're not wearing those," and his mates followed.

Old school, as in bucking trends, avoiding popular fashion, the science of seeming rather than being.

Old school, as in practicing hard and often. Liking it.

"It's the best game in the world, that's part of the fun playing with Jerry (Sloan)," Stockton once said. "Some people don't understand that protection but he will fight for this game. I'd say it's something I've loved since I was a kid."

One year in the playoffs, Stockton didn't play very well. Nobody knew it until much later, the next fall, he'd played the end of the season with a shoulder injury and couldn't lift his arm. These days, some guys sit out months with a tweaked whatever.

Old school business. Stockton essentially had no agent. Early in his career he had one but later dropped him and represented himself. Outside of a Bountiful lawyer, not really an agent, Stockton negotiated his own contracts.

The contrast between old school and Generation X are easy. Take Stockton vs. Allen Iverson. Columnist Brad Rock beautifully bracketed that after a March 29, 2000, faceoff between the two stars.

Wrote Rock, "Stockton goes about his business with studied precision — a bounce-pass here, a jump shot there, a steal in between.

All under control, a concert of measurements and calculations. Iverson is a blur of crossover dribbles, stutter steps and quick jumpers.

"Stockton takes what is given, Iverson takes what he wants. Stockton is older, wiser, more cautious; Iverson burns with the impetuousness of youth.

Stockton is all timings and adjustments; Iverson is instinct and speed. Stockton is the embodiment of team play; Iverson is the person Charles Barkley once labeled "Me-Myself-and-Iverson.'"

Old school demeanor.

Stockton's last game was a playoff affair at Sacramento and Sloan took out Karl Malone and Stockton with five minutes left.

They'd been a sensation, the epitome of the pick-and-roll for 19 seasons but would exit together as fans applauded in reverence.

Later, on the phone with his father, Stockton told his dad the gesture at that juncture took him by surprise.

Jack asked why his son didn't wave or something. "It's all right to do that, you know."

Stockton replied, "We're down 17 points, I'm not going to wave at anybody."

You'd expect nothing less from the best little man to ever play the game.

Sloan? Dirt farmer turned hockey-masked Jason on the court; minister of structure on the sidelines.

Old school? To the letter. Now, with Monday's official announcement, the matched box set will be enshrined.

One thing is certain, we'll never see this brand again.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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