This weekend is the five-year anniversary of the Discovery of John Stockton, which brings us to the start of the unofficial countdown toward another NBA season assists record.
The last time the NCAA Final Four was in Seattle, Stockton was summoned from Spokane as a late replacement for the accompanying all-star game. Jazz consultant Jack Gardner was immediately impressed with Stockton, who ended up as the Jazz's surprise first-round pick after continuing to play well in other postseason events.Five years later, well, you know the rest. Stockton is an All-Star and the Jazz are having their best season ever.
With 12 games left, Stockton actually has more assists than he had last April 1, before his closing rampage. Whatever happens this month, though, this record chase will draw considerably less attention - after all, it's his record now, not Isiah Thomas'. Says Stockton, predictably, "It's nice not to have the distraction."
The spotlight hardly affected his play last April, when he had at least 15 assists in 11 of 12 games and the Jazz won eight of them. Another finish like that, starting tonight against Danny Ainge and the Sacramento Kings in Arco Arena, would give Stockton another record and the Jazz 52 wins.
That's all fairly unlikely, considering the schedule and Stockton's season-long trend. He's averaged about 13 assists all year, while increasing his scoring average to 16.9 and playing big minutes (38.6) from the start.
In fact, Stockton's durability while playing that much is becoming his most amazing achievement. He's played in all 398 regular-season games since joining the Jazz and rarely shows signs of wearing down.
"We haven't had anybody around here who maintains the state of physical fitness he does," says veteran Jazz trainer Don Sparks. "He's amazing; his endurance level. He takes good care of himself."
Stockton almost missed a game in the final week of last season when bothered by a hamstring injury. He's shaken off minor injuries this season, but has rarely even skipped practice while taking on his big workload. "There are days when you're more tired than others," he admits, "but I feel good."
He's still John Stockton. Asked to summarize his season, he says, "Interesting, to say the least."
The All-Star Game, the new contract and all that?
Not according to Stockton. "The way other teams approach playing us," he says. "We're no longer the team that people expect to beat, or that gets win because teams are looking past us. That's because of what Mailman (Karl Malone) has done."
Five years after the Final Four in Seattle, NBA teams know all about Stockton, too.