AMONG THE world's best 24 basketball players suited up for Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, Utah guard John Stockton is the least likely to get all sentimental over the occasion.
Stockton is happy to be here, and honored, it's just that he isn't prone to attach any earth-shattering importance to an event he didn't even know existed until a relatively short time ago.For one thing, he did not grow up in an NBA city. He grew up in Spokane, Wash. For another thing, he wasn't the type of kid who collected trading cards, or memorized statistics, or followed professional sports teams on TV.
He wasn't an autograph seeker, either. He went after one autograph in his life. In college, when he played basketball for Spokane's Gonzaga University, he was on a trip to Los Angeles and saw Bernadette Peters, the actress, in the airport.
"I asked her for her autograph. I embarrased her," he recalls, "I can appreciate how she felt now - being on the other side occasionally."
Mostly, Stockton's vision stayed in Spokane. He did not grow up shooting baskets in the driveway dreaming of one day playing in the NBA All-Star Game. He did not imagine himself as Julius Erving or Tiny Archibald.
He did imagine himself as Larry Kelly or Mike Kelly.
"They were All-State players at the high school," he says. "I wanted to be like them."
"I had modest goals," says Stockton. "All I wanted to do was make the high school team. That was really all I thought about. I mostly concentrated on being a kid. I just loved to play. As far as advancing myself career-wise, I never thought about it."
Seeing the legendary greats of the NBA at All-Star Weekend this week does not jog any boyhood memories.
"I know about Oscar Robertson and Rick Barry and players like that now," he says, "and I have great respect for what they did. It's probably a greater respect than if I'd just been a fan, because I can appreciate it as a player. But I couldn't tell you when any of them played."He watched almost all of the Gonzaga Prep high school games as a kid, and a lot of the games at Gonzaga U., but he barely saw an NBA game, on TV or in person, until he played in one himself. To the best of his recollection, prior to joining the Jazz six years ago, he saw the Seattle Supersonics play three exhibition games in Spokane. One was against the Jazz.
This is Stockton's third consecutive All-Star Game appearance, and he says that while he's glad to be here, that doesn't mean he will be distracted from thinking more about the regular season than this celebrated break from the regular season.
"I do tend to stay focused on what's really important," he says, "and that's how our team is going."
"I'm just fortunate to play with so many good players (on the Jazz) that they get me noticed," he says. "That's why I'm here. I'm honored to be here. But there are a lot of guys who could be here as well. I'd be equally honored to be on a team with guys in the league who didn't make it."
"Everybody in this league gives me fits," said Stockton when asked to name some of the non-All-Stars he feels should also be here in Charlotte. "I feel like if I let down just one night I'll get murdered. I've always felt that way and I still do."
Despite his three All-Star Game appearances, his alltime NBA season assists record, and his ascendance to the upper echolens of NBA stardom, Stockton steadfastly remains true to the way he grew up. His preference is to play for and focus on the present.
"Jerry (Sloan, the Jazz coach) said some day it'll be real important for me, these kinds of things," says Stockton. "I'll have to take his word for it. If Jerry Sloan says it, I tend to believe it."
In the meantime, as he keeps getting voted to All-Star games and people continue to tell him he's the second coming of Bob Cousy, he'll accept the compliment and wonder just who is Bob Cousy - and when did he play?