Utah Jazz: Hall of Famer John Stockton dishes out quips, candid remarks in Q-and-A
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — If you needed any proof that times have changed, consider the fact that John Stockton invited media members to ask him questions at a press conference Friday morning.
The Hall of Famer also eagerly signed autographs for a horde of Utah Jazz fans.
The 6-foot-1 point guard then did a dunking exhibition.
Truth be told, Stockton only did two of those three events as part of a weekend stop in Utah during his book tour for his recently released autobiography, "Assisted."
The Jazz legend, who has his own statue, a street named after him, and his No. 12 jersey in the former Delta Center rafters, spent 25 minutes sharing candid responses and quips with Utah media before doing the first of two autograph sessions.
"Kind of an added benefit," he joked about the press conference.
During the Q-and-A, Stockton touched on his career, relationships with Jazz personnel and Utah; thoughts about Trey Burke and the current Jazz team; his family, privacy and priorities; the possibility of returning to the NBA; his fear of Twitter; and, of course, his book, which he personally wrote by hand with the editorial guidance of former basketball coach/mentor Kerry Pickett.
Stockton also spent a moment in the Jazz shootaround before scurrying away for a full day, which included interviews and that book-signing session (another is scheduled for Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Fanzz store at EnergySolutions Arena).
Stockton even got a chance to briefly visit with his old coach, Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan.
"He looks a lot younger," Sloan joked.
Here is the transcript from Stockton's Q-and-A:
Q: Does it surprise you that you’re doing this (press conference)?
Stockton: It doesn’t surprise me that I did the book. It surprised me that we published it and then therefore I have to do this. It goes with the territory we have, like when we were playing. We played basketball with the thought that I’d be speaking in front of you like this. Same thing with the book. It’s kind of an added benefit.
Q: How did it evolve from you maintaining a private life to deciding years later to open up and share it?
Stockton: It’s not a tell-all, if you’ve read it. I think I’ve preserved most of my private life, and I think that's still important for me and that’s still important for my family. But I did open up some. It started out I wanted to pass on messages to my children and have a chance to put it down in writing and think about it a little instead of just blabbing on the way to a game one day or something. It started out with my old Coach (Kerry) Pickett, my sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade basketball coach who's rather a learned guy. We started the project. As the project progressed, I think the need to publish probably came more from him than me, to be perfectly honest, but here we are.
Q: How much of the writing did you do?
Stockton: I did it all. Well, what does all mean? I wrote every word of it to start. The process, if you're not bored by me talking, is when I met with (Pickett), we talked about doing it, we spent a couple of hours just kind of talking about it.
Next time I talked to him (a week or so later), he had a little outline. He said, "Why don't you go write on this, this area of your life?" Whether it was my time at Gonzaga, whatever. I would just go off at home while my kids were away to school and start writing, literally on college-ruled paper, with pen, and then I would type it up, present it to him. He would add or subtract his comments — "I don’t get this or I get that" — and then I’d rewrite it. And then he'd write more suggestions and then I'd rewrite it.
It was a long, arduous process. I have a great respect for people that write. I don’t know how they do it every day ... or do novels that they have to use their minds instead of just their memories. It’s tough duty.
Q: Was there a part of your life that was especially interesting to go back and relive?
Stockton: I think what I found is there was areas I just didn’t want to go back to. I think there's a little bit of talking about the championship series (in the book). Those are a blast. We came out, obviously, on the losing end of that. I didn't have much to add to that, and that surprised me a little. I thought that would be more of a story. But for me, that was over, move forward, and that’s probably how I approached it at the time.
Q: Now that you're back and in a press tour, do you miss this? Are you looking to get back in the NBA at any point? Coaching?
Stockton: I’m pretty much looking to crawl back into my cave after this weekend's over. (Laughs). This isn’t bad. There's a lot worse things that can happen to a guy. And my experiences with you guys in the past have never been bad. I just felt the need to guard that privacy, guard it for my family, for myself, and I still feel that way. It’s a little bit easier now. My kids are growing up. They’re adults most of them, or at least half of them. It’s just different. But, no, I’m not looking to get back into the lights.
Q: What advice did you give Trey Burke and Alec Burks when they visited you in Spokane this summer?
Stockton: I didn’t give them a lot of advice. I had a good time with both of them. They’re good, nice young men and they were both open ears, ready to learn and ready to hear whatever. Mostly what I did when they were there was babbled. We talked about certain plays and what they might see and what I would’ve done if I saw this. And then just babbled. And hopefully if there’s some wisdom in my experiences, hopefully they pick it up and it helps them. But really it’s not like coaching normally where you have a whole year to work on, and you can work on this move or that play and solidify it in your memory for the rest of your life. It’s more conceptual. I enjoyed my time with them. It was a lot of fun for me. It was my treat really. A treat for me.
Q: Did you consult with the Jazz before they drafted Trey Burke? What do you see in him?
Stockton: I wasn't consulted on Trey before the draft or anything like that. They’ve asked since and that was part of it. That was all part of that working-out process.
Q: What do you like about Trey's game?
Stockton: I’m anxious to see him in a game. The environment I saw him in was a couple of guys up in an empty gym, with me doing a lot of talking. I don't know if you can get a great feel for where a person should be. I think Trey, in particular, has a great opportunity to learn where he’s not forced into the action. Being hurt might actually be a positive for him because it gives him a chance to sit there. I know my first years sitting on the bench, largely behind Rickey Green, was a great learning tool for me. (I) would recommend that for young guards, especially if teams can manage to do it, is to sit some of these highly valued guys coming out, give them a chance to see how the team works without being stuck in the fray.
Q: When Jeff Hornacek took the Phoenix Suns job, did you have advice for him?
Stockton: I knew he wanted to coach. You could see it when we were playing together he was going to be a coach. I knew that time was coming. I knew that there was timing issues with his family and when he’d be comfortable enough to do that (he would). I was happy for him. That’s a tough job. For me at that time would I want to jump into it? I don’t think so, but I was happy for him because I think he was. His timing was ready.
Q: In your life, you never played for a struggling team like the (1-8) Jazz are now. How do you think you have would've responded? What would you recommend they do to persevere through it?
Stockton: I like to think I would've responded well. However, I never had to. Maybe one of my most recurring thoughts is how thankful I am to that group that came before me with Rickey and Thurl (Bailey) and Adrian (Dantley) and John Drew, all these guys that changed the culture of the Utah Jazz from, I don’t want to say cellar dwellers, but certainly not a threat to a winning organization. I think it's the hardest thing in sports. In fact, I think it’s so hard people are jumping ship and getting themselves traded or free agented everywhere to change that environment rather than battle through it. They battled through it here. I give a lot of that credit to Frank Layden. He found a way to reach these guys and get them to play as a team and then the collective talents they brought in. I have great respect to that group that came before us.
Now, to answer your question, they have an opportunity here. They’re not a team that I think people have great expectations for and yet they’re young; they’re talented; they have an opportunity to be special — and not win championship special, maybe not yet, but change that culture, because right now it’s tough, and it’s tough to be young guys in here.
Q: Hornacek said his wife gave him your book, and he joked that he wants to see you sign autographs for fans. Has this book process re-opened doors with former teammates? Have any reached out or razzed you?
Stockton: No razzing yet. I’ve received a couple of phone calls. Karl (Malone)’s foreword was tremendous. My kids wanted to call the foreword, "The Power Foreword," by the way. I thought that was kind of catchy. But I get a call, mostly texts now, "Hey, I liked it. Let’s talk about it sometime." It’s been pretty wild for the last couple of weeks.
Q: Did you have to edit the foreword by Karl Malone?
Stockton: I had nothing to do with the foreword other than ask if he'd be willing to do it. I was surprised by his enthusiasm towards it, and then he did it. He handed it in to Coach Pickett. I don’t know if they went through the same process I did or not, but they’re the ones that got it done. It was pretty nice to hear.
Q: Did you get everything out that you wanted to in the book, or will there be more books?
Stockton: I don’t think there will be a sequel or a tri(logy). You guys are already razzing me about telling everything. There’s still more stuff rattling around in my head, but I don’t know if I’ll go this route again.
Q: What did Frank Layden do to help bring you along and shape your career?
Stockton: I don’t know if you can cover that. Every time I speak to Frank Layden, even today, wisdom just kind of oozes out everywhere. It was very important to him that he makes his players better people when they were done with them. That’s the type of care that he had for his players. I remember many conversations I had with him before we even started bounding the balls in training camp my rookie season that impacted the rest of my life. That’s just the type of man he is. I think that helps you. It gives you confidence. It gives you (comfort knowing) he’s on my side and you're able to go out there and just compete instead of worry all the time.
Q: Can you talk about Jerry Sloan and how he impacted your career?
Stockton: You can’t put into words his impact on my life and career — coach, friend, mentor, boss. He's really worn a lot of hats for me personally. I admire him so much I can’t even express it.
Q: What did you think about how Sloan tried to extend your playing career by restricting your minutes?
Stockton: That was one of the things we fought about. I didn’t want to play forever. I wanted to try to win this whole thing and then go off into the sunset, so to speak. He felt like he had a duty to the organization to preserve us and have us around for a longer time. He felt like then you bring a mesh of young guys in and you're viable for longer. We argued about it, but he won. I would’ve probably gone a different route.
Q: Outside of Utah, who were some people who influenced you early on?
Stockton: My brother (Steve Stockton). My brother thundered me in everything most of my life. He was a great carrot out in front of me. All I wanted to do ever was beat him at anything. I don’t want to leave that out. One of the guys basketball-wise was Coach Pickett, who helped me write the book. He caught me at a very impressionable time, taught me the fundamentals. He gave me the foundation it took to build on it so that my love for the game could expand because I could build on something. If you’re just out there running around, you can’t really improve. He came in at a great time in my life, especially as far as basketball goes.
Q: What does the support from the Utah community mean to you?
Stockton: This has been home for me. One of the hardest things I ever did was move myself and my family back home (to Spokane, Wash.). What’s home? For me, it was my mom and dad were there. My brothers and sisters, the community I grew up (in), was there. But this is also home. That was tough because it’s very difficult to balance them. Probably my parents being there (was) the turning point for us. I don’t know if you can put words into my feelings for this community. It’s a beautiful city. That hasn’t changed. (Utah) welcomed me with opened arms. I still feel very much at home here as I do with the Jazz and here in this building (the former Delta Center). This was a special time in my life. It still is. I feel very connected still.
Q: Your son, Michael, has had opportunities with Utah (working out, playing summer league). What was that like to see him wearing the Jazz jersey?
Stockton: It was very neat to see Michael wearing the Jazz gear and practicing — even more so to see the pride in which he held doing it. You don’t know the impact this team has had on my children. That was a great thrill for him, for me, for us. It was neat.
Q: Do you see yourself having more involvement with the Jazz organization in a formal capacity going forward?
Stockton: I haven’t ruled anything out, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I have a 12-year-old son, Samuel, who I’m coaching in the seventh grade, and I’m having a blast at it. There's so much of that still ahead of me. My daughter’s in high school, Laura, and I’m enjoying coaching with her. My kids that are older than her are playing. My daughter Lindsay is playing at Montana state. David is playing at Gonzaga. My son Michael, who you mentioned, is in Germany playing. I don’t want to change. I'm enjoying that. I'm enjoying getting to see them play, and then it’s not always easy, but it would be impossible if I had a job like coaching. So, fortunately, I’m coaching at a level where I have a little flexibility in my schedule.
Q: What do you think about the state of the current NBA and the point guard position?
Stockton: It’s changed a lot. Almost every point guard you see out there now is a scorer. Not that the other guys weren’t, but there’s so many different ways to play the position. The NBA has always gone through patterns, if you will. I remember when I first came in everybody was looking for the Magic Johnson clone. They couldn’t find many 6-10 guys that could play the point. If they could, then all of us little guys would’ve been out. And like Isiah (Thomas), guys like him really succeeded, and they said, "Hey, maybe we can succeed with little guys." I think it goes through ebbs and flows. Coaches are so clever, they’re figuring out a way to combat now what the Heat are doing and how are you going to guard these guys? What’s the direction of it? I think it's always in flux and probably always will be in trying to figure out that secret formula that wins the title.
Q: You wrote about the undercurrent on the team in your last season. How much does that tarnish your career?
Stockton: It doesn’t tarnish it all. I think the whole purpose of that point in the story was not even the undercurrent. It was to show how I handled it and how I handled a lot of things in that last year. There were signs. I don’t know if any of you have retired or have come close or have thought about it, but for me it was, "Why didn’t I do something? What didn’t I pay attention (to)? Why wasn’t I looking?" All these indicators that it might be time for me to look for a new profession, so to speak. I took that very internal on what I needed to do rather than what was going on there. I couldn’t say that without expressing what led up to it.
Q: Many fans wanted you to score more. Any regrets about not shooting more?
Stockton: I didn’t go into games thinking, "I need to take 15 shots or 10 shots or four shots." I didn’t go in thinking I needed 10 assists or five or 15. I just played. I figured the coaches would tell me if they wanted something different. We had Karl Malone, arguably the best scorer in the history of the game. I know he’s not No. 1 on the list, but I’m hard-pressed to find one who was just so dominant for so long. It would be foolish to sit there and take too many outside shots when you can get the ball into him close. The foul pressure it puts on teams, the high percentage he shot, the ability to shoot free throws and all those things with him. Having Jeff Hornacek. My decisions on the court were based on the types of guys around at the time and what was the necessary play, I think.
Q: What was the most enjoyable part of writing the book and what do you hope people will take away?
Stockton: The most enjoyable part was the walk down memory lane, whether it be my childhood or high school and college, professional days. That was fun. And to recollect stories. I even found myself chuckling in the chair sometimes thinking about things.
What I hope people get out of it is so many people impact (others') lives. Normal everyday people that go to work every day, that hand a kid a basketball or hand him a football or hand him, whatever, a book. It changes their lives, and they go on without any credit for it. So many people impacted my life positively and (it's) an unlikely story. That’s really what I wanted to pass on is, 'Thank you.' Not only to people that have contributed to my life, but the ones who have contributed to others, the unsung heroes.
Q: Did you take it upon yourself to take over the final minutes of the Game 6 win in the Western Conference Finals that sent you to the NBA Finals for the first time in 1997?
Stockton: I don’t remember much of that. I think even in the book I mentioned that. I remember Greg Ostertag being impactful in the latter minutes of that. I didn’t go back and watch film for the book. In fact, I made a point not to go back and research. I wanted to go by memory, so I guess it's a freer story or something. I didn't want to be limited by (details like), "That was two points, not three points."
I do remember the last shot. I still get goosebumps thinking about that. A lot of what happened before it was a blur. That’s probably how the game was. I know we were down a lot. I know we came back, similarly to the way we lost to Phoenix two years before that and lost to Houston ... years before that. What a wild day that was. That was so much fun. But that’s mostly what I remember, mostly the last shot also.
Q: How much interaction do you have with Jerry Sloan and Malone?
Stockton: I wouldn’t say daily or even weekly. It’s more in the monthly or a couple of monthlies. You just never know. None of us have our numbers on speed dial. I don’t even know if my phone has a speed dial. But we manage to stay in touch, and it’s good.
Q: How did the Jazz convince you to go on Twitter for their 'Twitter Takeover' on Friday afternoon?
Stockton: I’m not going on Twitter. I don’t know anything about Twitter. It scares me. I have no intention of being part of anything Twitter. What they do, I don’t know. (A P.R. person informed him that he was going to have a conversation while somebody else typed his responses into Twitter.) There you go.
Q: I was curious if your kids were going to help you with social media.
Stockton: I’m going to show you something. (He reaches into his pocket and grabs a flip phone.) This is my brand-new phone, because I dropped the other one in some water that I had for 10 years. I don’t even know how to use these functions. No, I don’t have any intention of going the way of the Twitter.
Thanks for coming.
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