Sometime Wednesday night, the script will probably go something like this: John Stockton will dribble until there are eight seconds left on the shot clock, then begin moving, looking to drive, looking to pass. He will pick up the dribble and fake inside to Karl Malone one way, then another, then another. Just before the shot-clock runs out, he will pass inside to Malone, who will bank in a shot and Stockton will continue on his course into NBA history.
The All-Star Jazz guard goes into Wednesday night's road game against the L.A. Clippers just 15 assists short of the 1,000-assist mark. It is a level Stockton will have reached four consecutive years.Although that milestone may not seem like much, consider this: Neither Magic Johnson, nor Larry Bird, nor Bob Cousy, nor Oscar Robertson could accomplish such a feat. In fact, Stockton is the only NBA player to have even two 1,000-assist seasons.
Most experts agree that Stockton is great. But one of the greatest ever? "Yes," says Jazz assistant Gordon Chiesa. "His accomplishments substantiate that."
Chiesa continues, "Besides, he's such an underrated shooter. His assist-to-turnover ratio is so good. And what you see every day - his ability to win. Each year, as John Stockton gets better, the team gets better."
In his seventh NBA season, Stockton has become a prototype for small point guards. The inordinately large hands taking care of the ball. The concise, textbook passes, void of wasted motion. The quickness. And, of course, the mental toughness.John Wooden, the longtime UCLA coach, once called Stockton his favorite NBA player. Boston team president Red Auerbach said if he was starting a team, he would begin with Stockton. "He can penetrate, he can finish off the drive, he can shoot from outside, he's got exceptional speed and he digs in on defense," said Hall of Fame great Cousy. "There isn't a heck of a lot more you can ask for from a player."
Despite spending almost seven years in the league, Stockton remains uncomfortable with his status as a superstar. He works as hard at being the tavern owner's son from Spokane, Wash., as he does at running the team. This week he reluctantly agreed to appear on the Arsenio Hall Show, along with Malone. "That's not really my speed," says Stockton. "But three people whose opinions I hold very high said I should do it - my sister, my wife and Thurl (Bailey). But if Karl wasn't there to carry things, no way."
While other players keep a high profile at airports, Stockton sits unassumingly, awaiting the boarding call and the relative privacy of the first-class seating on the plane - a private person in the most un-private of professions. Asked if he is uncomfortable with his fame, Stockton only shrugs. "I don't know," he says feebly.
If Stockton is reluctant to talk about himself, there is no shortage of help. Dr. Keith Henschen, a sports psychologist who works with the Jazz says, "I've never met a person so focused; who can just turn it on and go to a higher level. He goes from a super level to a stratospheric level of concentration. He refuses to lose.
"I don't even know if he knows what he does," continues Henschen. "He's one of those rare individuals who, when it's crunch time, wants the ball and who is totally focused. If nobody's open, he does it himself."
Stockton's concentration takes on particular importance late in the season. The Jazz are in a breakneck race for the Midwest Division title with Houston and San Antonio. Stockton's concentration never wavers. After carrying much of the weight of bringing the Jazz back in three crucial road games - all of which the Jazz lost - he returned to lead them to overtime wins over Boston and Seattle the next week. Henschen says it was Stockton's rare concentration that made the wins possible. "He thinks everybody does that," says Henschen. "He doesn't realize it's a skill. Bird does it. Jordan does it. Isiah does it. That's pretty rarefied air."
Meanwhile, Stockton appears indifferent to the praise others heap on him. One thousand assists. Another note in the record books. Another year goes by, and John Stockton continues to get better. "I just play," says Stockton. "I'm not one to think about it. If I get one assist and we win, that's great. Otherwise, I could care less."
"Don't get me started on John Stockton or we'll be here all night," says Jazz President Frank Layden. "He does so many things well that to try to comment on them all would be too much work. Let's put it this way: He's perfect - and he's improving."
PREGAME NOTES: Jazz forward Blue Edwards practiced with the team on Tuesday for the first time since severely spraining his ankle Feb. 27. But Coach Jerry Sloan said Edwards "isn't ready yet," and won't be on the trip to L.A. with the team . . . The Clippers have won three straight games, including a 106-94 win over Phoenix on Monday . . . Guard Gary Grant missed the last two games due to a sore knee.