INSIDE THE JAZZ locker room, 10 members of the media are hanging out, staring at the ceiling, at their shoes, at their watches. Tuesday night's Houston-Utah game has been finished for 20 minutes, and everyone is waiting for the same man, John Stockton, the Greta Garbo of the National Basketball Association.
Dave Allred, the Jazz director of public relations, runs in and out of the locker room, promising to deliver Stockton for an actual interview. It won't be easy. Allred will have to be fast. After each game, Stockton, who likes publicity like Howard Hughes, routinely makes a fastbreak for the training room long before the media gains admission to the locker room, and there he stays, icing his legs, until the media is gone."Don't anybody leave; he's coming," says Allred, and he disappears again.
Tonight, Stockton, the Jazz's All-Star guard, has outdone himself on the court, as usual. On a night when his teammates are stuck in the post-All Star Game doldrums, he delivers 19 points, 11 assists and a club-record-tying nine steals. Only a foul during a would-be steal in the fourth quarter prevented him from getting a triple double. Anyway, Stockton is his own worst enemy when he produces such performances, because now the media has deemed him a must-do interview.
Allred returns. "Four minutes. He'll be here in four minutes," he says.
Everyone is still waiting, but the closest anyone can come to a Stockton at the moment is Michael Stockton, the player's youngest son, but he doesn't do interviews either. Of course, he's only 18 months old. Michael is rolling a basketball around the locker room floor. Someone says Michael is already working on his ballhandling skills.
"He'll be here any minute," says Allred, back again.
Some people thrive on publicity. Stockton is not one of them. Last season he came down with an injury that required treatment in the training room after each game. In the process, he made a discovery: not only did the ice help his knees, ankles and feet, but the training room - which is off limits to media - also gave him refuge from interviews. Since then, he has continued his postgame visits to the training room, and rarely is the media still present by the time he returns to the locker room. In the meantime, his teammates answer the questions.
These days the only ways to get a postgame interview with Stockton is to wait 45 minutes or so for him to leave the training room or hope he gets cornered for a postgame TV interview. In the case of the latter, the media can beat him into the locker room and hope to nab him when he comes through the door. But Stockton-like speed is required to catch Stockton.
Earlier this season, following a club-record 28-assist performance, Stockton was asked to do a postgame TV interview, which gave reporters a fighting chance to interview him. They were waiting for him when he came into the locker room, but he took one look at the cameras and microphones and made a successful back-door cut for the training room. And you thought he was elusive only on the court.
"The training room is his sanctuary," says Kim Turner, the Jazz director of media relations. "It's just his way. He's a private person. He doesn't like the attention. He's not motivated that way."
He shuns publicity outside the locker room, as well. According to one teammate, Stockton, who often refuses to give autographs, compares his fame and the limits it imposes on his freedom to prison.
"If someone needs him to do something, he'll fulfill his obligations," says Turner. "If we need him to do a radio show or TV, he'll do it. And he's very good."
Members of the media agree that Stockton, once captured, is a cooperative and fair interview, although Stockton himself would dispute the latter.
A half-hour after the game has ended, Allred delivers. Stockton, live and in person, shows up in the locker room and does interviews. The reporters rush in for a couple of minutes' worth of questions and then rush off to meet their deadlines.
Later, when asked about his publicity-shyness, Stockton says it's partly because he thinks he's a boring interview. "We play so many games, it's tough to say new things," he says. "And if you do try to say new things, you're just doing it to be exciting. I don't want to do that. I like to be accurate and honest."
As for his training room hideout, Stockton says, "I like the solitude. It's a nice place to collect my thoughts. But it's also a long season. I'm not 20 anymore. I need to get treatment, and it's a case of first things first."
With that, the night is complete. Count them again: 19 points, 11 assists, nine steals, another club record, and a handful of interviews.