SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — With neatly trimmed hair and an age-defying, almost-cherubic face that made him appear to not be too much older than the number 12 on his jersey, there's no doubt John Stockton had a squeaky, clean-cut image.

Knowing he came from a Catholic background and attended a private Jesuit college, some jokingly called him an alter boy or a choir boy.

He was adored and admired, did amazing things, was more generous than anybody in his profession, and spread happiness to many during 19 years under the spotlight.

The word "perfect" was even used by a couple of different, significant people in describing him recently.

With that kind of praise, you might think the special ceremony being held tonight on his behalf — and for four other elites — could be moved from Springfield, Mass., to the Vatican.

Though he seemed to pull off a few miracles on the court, the legendary Utah Jazz point guard will not be granted sainthood anytime soon — even if Saint Stockton has a certain ring to it.

The man considered by many to be the greatest pure point guard in NBA history will instead receive well-deserved and everlasting glory in the hoops world, not necessarily in the heavens, as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

While angels might not harmonize choruses in his honor — unless they're Jazz fans, of course — a former foe and Stockton's old coach are quick to sing his praises.

"John Stockton is the perfect point guard," Charles Barkley told NBA.com. "There has never been a pure point guard who made better basketball decisions with the ball — ever."

Jerry Sloan will give a straight-from-the-soul "Amen!" to that.

The Jazz coach, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the same time as his star pupil along with Michael Jordan, David Robinson and C. Vivian Stringer, recently came across a football coach's description of another player that hit home. It made Sloan reflect on Stockton, resonating in his head like the cheers of Jazz fans after any one of the point guard's thousands of assists, steals or timely buckets.

Simply put, Sloan thought how New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick described retiring linebacker Tedy Bruschi as being "a perfect player" was, well, a perfect way to articulate his thoughts about Stockton.

"I'd never heard that before, but it certainly would represent John Stockton in almost every aspect of basketball," Sloan said. "When you say he's 'a perfect player,' (it was) the way he handled himself, the way he prepared himself to play, all those things."

Sloan was fortunate to see it from the inside every day. Thousands of times.

There were many of "those things" that made Stockton a fan — and coach — favorite in Utah for nearly two decades.

Like, for instance, Stockton being able to achieve and accomplish so many records and milestones and having so much success despite playing with a small-by-NBA-standards body and an appearance that looked anything but intimidating (those occasional scary-Stockton glares, notwithstanding).

Consider the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder's durability and bounce-back ability, which helped him play every game in 17 of his 19 seasons for a total of 1,504 appearances in 1,526 regular-season contests, while also helping him to be productive even up until he retired at the age of 41.

And his accuracy and generosity, which led to him racking up more assists — a still-standing NBA record 15,806 — than anybody in the league had ever dreamed of dishing out.

His greediness and timing, which helped him set the NBA steals record with 3,265 in his career.

His unflappability, which helped him keep his cool when hotter heads prevailed and when he got tossed around by the likes of Dennis Rodman.

His knowledge of the game. His understanding of teammates and opponents. His willingness to be coached and coach.

His conditioning, work ethic and spunk.

His knack of busting a gut without breaking a sweat. Not seemingly even a drop.

His ability to bring an "Uh, oh" out of Bill Walton's mouth while simultaneously bringing out all sorts of celebratory sounds from NBA Finals-starved Beehive State fans in 1997.

His knock-the-wind-out-of-opponents picks, which resulted in him occasionally being called a dirty player by opposing players and fans, but a toughness that also resulted in oh-so-many open lanes and good shots for his teammates.

His patience, poise, precise pinpoint passes and proclivity for picking-and-rolling with a certain postal employee.

His effort and focus to be able to work as hard when he stepped on the court for practice — yes, we're talking about practice — as he did for games.

His style being so impressive to John Wooden that the Hall of Fame coach once famously claimed Stockton was not only his favorite but was also the only player he'd pay to watch play.

In other words, what made Stockton such a perfect player in many minds was pretty much everything but his preferred length of uniform bottoms.

And, heck, while his Jazz-hued Daisy Dukes were, um, the butt of many jokes, some segments of the population weren't exactly complaining about them.

Oh yeah, he wasn't exactly a flashy dunker, either.

Then again, that may be one of the endearing reasons Sloan is as enthralled with Stockton as he is with tilling and tractors.

As honored as Sloan is to earn his own spot in the Hall of Fame, he is infinitely more excited for Stockton to be there.

All the better that they're being enshrined together.

"It means a lot more to me for John than it does for myself," Sloan admitted, "because he's the one who put up all the work, did all the showing up every day and laying it out here on the floor for practice for 19 years."

Stockton grew up in Spokane, Wash., where he had some epic backyard battles with his older brother, Steve. At the Hall of Fame announcement ceremony last spring, Stockton said it took him about a thousand times of going mano-a-mano before finally beating his big bro. He added with a laugh, "One in 1,000 isn't a great record."

Stockton didn't spend too much time on the losing end, however.

He stayed home to go to college and tore up the college ranks at Gonzaga before it was cool to go to Gonzaga. He earned an invitation to try out for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team, where he really began to make a name for himself (and, coincidentally, met and befriended one Karl Malone).

Though they seemed to be in good shape at point guard with Rickey Green, the Jazz surprised experts and fans by picking up the no-namer from the Northwest with the 16th overall pick in 1984.

In a story about that loaded draft — which included Stockton, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley — Filip Bondy of Hoopshype.com wrote about this mysterious pick and TV announcer Al Albert's stunned reaction.

"Not many know about John Stockton," Albert said after the Jazz made their selection. "His name is certainly not on the lips of the fans here in New York. His star is rising.

"Frank Layden," Albert continued, "is certainly sticking his neck out."

Stockton apparently got a kick out of his relative anonymity and how people speculated that the Jazz had been silly to snatch a backup point guard in the first round.

"The best thing about the draft," Stockton later said, "was watching the guys on TV ?ipping through their notes trying to find something on me."

After splitting time for three years with Green — dubbed "The fastest of 'em all" by Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley — Stockton gave announcers plenty of material to work with.

After winning the starting role, Stockton exploded for an NBA single-season assists record in 1987-88, ending with 1,128 to eclipse Isiah Thomas' previous mark by five assists.

The next year Stockton helped the Jazz win their second Midwest Division title in Sloan's first season as head coach and they made that postseason journey an annual pilgrimage. The Jazz weren't always successful in the playoffs, but they were always there. Nineteen years in a row with Stockton on the squad, in fact.

But many of those proved frustrating and resulted in early exits until Stockton nailed that 3-pointer over the surging Barkley, lifting Utah to the Game 6 victory in the '97 Western Conference Finals with what NBA.com's John Schuhmann claims is "easily the biggest shot in Jazz history."

Stockton and company couldn't quite clear the next hurdle — mostly because the hurdle happened to be 6-foot-6 and arguably the greatest player to ever play the game — but that doesn't tarnish his career in the slightest to his old coach.

Plus, Stockton was hardly the only player whose team couldn't beat Air Jordan and his Chicago Bulls.

Nonetheless, Danny Ainge reportedly complimented Stockton for competing harder than anyone in the game, including Jordan. Sloan loved his will to win and work, too.

"John's just an unusual guy," Sloan said. "He loved to play. He loved to compete."

He loved to play and compete after falling short, too. Just ask his brother, Steve. That never-give-up attitude was one of Sloan's favorite qualities Stockton possessed.

"If things didn't go right, it was interesting to watch. … He wasn't sitting around feeling sorry for himself. He got up and got ready to go again," Sloan said. "I'm sure players that played against him hated to see him have a bad game before he played against them.

"He had his moments, but I'd say he's second to none as far as I'm concerned as far as wanting to play and proving that," Sloan continued. "A lot of people tell you they like to play, but go out and prove it. He missed how many games in 19 years?"

Only an average of 1.16 games per season.

Though some can't believe Stockton did so well and for so long while supposedly being undersized, Sloan insists being short greatly benefited his point guard. Mostly because Stockton was — from the first time he touched a basketball until the day he retired and then on into the Hall of Fame — and always will be a true point guard.

Sloan loves that he always faced his opponent, a skill Stockton used oh-so-well to break him down and make a play. He also marvels at how the mighty-mite was able to get out of so many double-team situations.

"Now he's not 6-10, 6-9 or 6-8. He's kind of a small guy," Sloan admitted. "And to be double-teamed the way he was and to get out of it as well as he did is hard to imagine.

24 comments on this story

"But," Sloan added, "he had terrific hands, terrific eyes and all those things that are necessary."

To be a perfect player, of course. That explains why the coach feels the Hall of Fame is now a perfect spot for Stockton's legend to live on.

Sloan couldn't care less if his choir boy look-alike was also a saint.

e-mail: jody@desnews.com