SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — During his Basketball Hall of Fame speech, John Stockton mentioned that he was never the best player on his team during 30 years of competitive basketball.
The humble admission came with a punch line. He had a chance for that star status one year but only because two of the best players on his team went down with season-ending injuries.
One of those guys was Jason Van Nort.
Stockton's anecdote is now one of his claims to fame. His other claim, of course, is that he was a teammate of the Hall-of-Famer at Gonzaga.
Van Nort's injury during their senior season forced Stockton to take on more offensive responsibility, leading to him scoring 20-plus points a game.
"His senior year, he was the man," Van Nort recalled. "He just really had to take on basically every role you could have on a basketball court. He was the assist-maker. He was the leading defensive guy and he became a scorer that year."
That, Van Nort said, "really helped his visibility," and Stockton soon after became a surprise pick by the Jazz in the first round of the 1984 NBA Draft.
All because of (wink, wink) Van Nort, of course.
OK, not really.
Van Nort, who lives in Seattle, credits Stockton's work ethic for helping him make it in the NBA and into the Hall of Fame. He was especially impressed with how the guard extended his range to become a deadly long-distance shooter, something that wasn't always the case.
"He worked at it," Van Nort said. "First guy in, last guy out, throughout this entire career, whether it was at the college level or the professional level."
Van Nort called it a "huge honor" that Stockton would invite him to the enshrinement ceremony nearly three decades after they entered Gonzaga together as freshmen.
"The opportunity to see the culmination of his career and getting the invitation from him was really special," Van Nort said. "What a class act."
Especially special for Van Nort was that Stockton turned his Hall of Fame induction weekend into a mini-Gonzaga reunion. Van Nort said about eight or nine Zags, some who hadn't seen each other since playing in the early 1980s, were reunited in the birthplace of basketball.
"We had some great pictures with all of us surrounding (Stockton)," Van Nort said while touring the Naismith Memorial hoops shrine over the weekend. "It was just a special event."
Brought back some fun memories, too, including of Stockton being a hilarious class-clown type in private — a taste of which the oft-chuckling Hall of Fame audience got Friday night.Comment on this story
That didn't surprise Van Nort, who laughed while reminiscing about the time the team flew back to Spokane, Wash., after he was injured playing against the University of Portland. Van Nort had an aircast and crutches on the way home after injuring his knee, so the flight attendants accommodated the Gonzaga big man with a first-class seat.
That caught Stockton's attention.
"He's like, 'Hey, I'm Van Nort's personal physician. I need to be up there with him," Van Nort fondly recalled. "Classic John. He wrangled his way into first class with me. It was pretty funny."
Stockton repaid him with a first-class Hall-of-Fame moment.