Trying to stay away from all the attention that went with his countdown to the NBA season record for assists, the Jazz's John Stockton had all kinds of trouble.
"I've got nosey teammates," he said.The Jazz players talked about the record all week long and especially before the game in the locker room, and rookie Bart Kofoed called out the numbers on the bench during Saturday night's game with Houston in the Salt Palace.
The record came early in the third quarter on Stockton's 14th assist of the game, a pass in the lane to Thurl Bailey for a finger-roll shot.
"I flashed into the middle and Stock found me, as he always does," said Bailey.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm for it on this team, and that was fun," Stockton said. "Everybody on this team shared in it . . . everybody else was more excited about it than I was."
And only Stockton could say this: "Guys went out of their way to shoot and make the baskets, and I appreciated it."
The record had belonged to Detroit's Isiah Thomas, who averaged 13.86 assists in 1985-86 but missed one game; Stockton averaged 13.76 assists this season. As Stockton approached the record this week, Thomas told the Detroit News, "It just sets the level of basketball another notch higher. Even if he breaks it, it's still a record that I set and something no NBA player had done before."
Although he only plays against Stockton twice a year, Thomas has plenty of respect for Stockton. "People look at him and they see a little kid," he noted, "but he's by far the quickest guy in the league. By far."
Kelly Tripucka converted a good share of Thomas' assists during that record season. "Isiah had an incredible year that year, and he's more of a flashy player," he said. "John's more straightforward . . . he's just kind of there. He's kind of incognito. Isiah had more fanfare, but it's an incredible achievement."
Stockton started his drive toward the record April 12, when he became the third player ever to reach 1,000 assists for a season. He followed that with a franchise-record 26 assists against Portland, and was within range entering the final week of the season. With 18 assists Tuesday at Portland, 21 Wednesday at the Los Angeles Clippers and 15 Friday at Seattle, he put himself in excellent position to wrap up the record at home.
The players all knew that. Before the game, "Who's going to be the guy that scores it?" was the question in the locker room, according to Bobby Hansen. Said Bailey, "We knew he was going to get it, but we didn't talk about it too much because John really hates that, and we know that."
Stockton could easily have broken the record in the first half. He had eight assists in the first quarter and tied the record with No. 13 with 5:15 left in the second quarter on a pass to Karl Malone. Bailey almost delivered the record-breaker moments later, but had a basket taken away by an offensive foul as one referee overruled another. Malone also missed a wide-open jumper before the half ended.
Bobby Hansen and Mel Turpin missed chances in the third quarter, but Bailey converted.
He and his teammates mobbed Stockton during the next stoppage in play and, later, Jazz owner Larry Miller and president-GM David Checketts congratulated Stockton and his wife at midcourt. Commemmorative cards were given to all the Salt Palace fans.
"A lot of things have to happen to break that kind of record," said Coach Frank Layden.
"It's a credit to him, and it also is a great credit to our team."