Whether Monday night's final Utah Jazz game of the season has any greater significance won't be apparent for awhile. John Stockton isn't saying whether he will retire. Karl Malone isn't talking about whether he'd like to finish his career elsewhere.

But endings are significant only in that they mark the passage of time; the end of an era. It is the era itself that is significant.

Fans in Utah have had 18 years to savor the confident ball-handling and leadership Stockton has displayed in game after game. They have had 17 years to marvel at Malone's strength and shooting ability. And for several years now they have all learned lessons about dedication, hard work and longevity from both of these men.

If not for the fact Stockton recently turned 40, few people would be speculating on his retirement. Point guards aren't supposed to last this long, and yet he not only lasts, he starts. In Monday's final game of the playoff series against Sacramento, he played 38 minutes, scoring 12 points and dishing out 9 assists. A lot of younger players wish they could perform consistently like that.

Stockton and Malone. In the basketball world, that phrase has become as familiar as Gilbert and Sullivan on Broadway or Sears and Roebuck in retailing. They also have become as much a part of Utah as I-15, bringing people together and uniting them as loyal rooters.

Despite all the money that makes the NBA a big business, basketball is just a game. Its strategy, grace and athletic requirements make it highly entertaining, but it pales in significance to the things that matter most in life. And yet, Stockton and Malone have taught many lessons about work ethic, what it means to train hard to improve and the value of giving a complete effort day in and day out. Those are lessons that apply everywhere.

The sad irony is that Stockton and Malone never have won a championship, and it is unlikely they ever will. This season proved the team has slipped from the echelon of contenders.

And yet they have shown that it is possible to be a winner without necessarily winning a league trophy. Even if they never play another game in Utah, that lesson won't soon be forgotten.