Stockton had to earn his teammates' confidence to get the ball as often as he does. Green ran the Layden-style break and had postup master Adrian Dantley on the blocks, yet averaged only 9.2 assists in his most productive passing year ('83-84). "You hear about shot selection all the time," says Layden, "but players like Magic and Stock have good pass selection." Stockton happens to have good shot selection, too. "It's not so much how well John is shooting it as when he's shooting it," says Green. "He's really making good decisions."
Stockton's superb play this season has defused a potentially sticky situation involving Green, the 10-year veteran who split playing time with Stockton in the previous two seasons. Green, says Stockton, has always been helpful and accommodating (they have lockered next to each other at the Salt Palace since Stockton's rookie season), but that does not mean Green is happy that he has gotten limited minutes (about 14 per game) since Layden made Stockton the starter in the fourth game of this season. In order to make Green more comfortable in a strictly reserve role, Jazz management extended his contract through next year, but it is by no means certain that Green will be wearing a Utah uniform in 1988-89.
"It's obvious that the tide has turned here and John has emerged," says Green. "But I can't hardly complain with the way John has played. He's done the job." Says Layden: "The change is so justifiable, there's nothing anybody can say."
The superlatives apply to Stockton's defense as well. Take steals. Some players get a lot of them but still hurt their defense by gambling and missing steals in the open court, which leads to easy scores. "John used to be out there chasing guys around, but he's learned that players like Cheeks rarely pick off someone in the open court," says Jazz assistant Jerry Sloan, considered one of the NBA's best alltime backcourt defenders. "They get their steals by using their hands when they're in traffic, by doubling down on big men, or by playing the passing lanes."
Articulate and open on most subjects, Stockton can only stammer and shake his head when he's asked about his gaudy stats. He expected to have a good season—after all, he finished tied for seventh in assists and eighth in steals in 1986-87 even though he came off the bench for Green—but no one anticipated that he would beat out Magic, the NBA's assist leader in four of the last five seasons, or better his career field-goal percentage of .488 by almost 100 points.
Says Stockton: "I didn't want to get caught up in the mind-set that 'Wait a minute, I'm ahead of Magic. I better slow down.' " So, quite simply, he never did, and because of that, at week's end the Jazz were 43-35 and headed for the playoffs.
Except for the telecasts of Utah Jazz games pulled in by a satellite dish, and the Jazz mugs that materialize during those telecasts, there is nothing to indicate a blood connection between pro basketball and Jack & Dan's, a friendly place where the neighborhood clientele can drink a beer, shoot pool and sample Jack Stockton's homemade chili or clam chowder. No plaques, no trophies, no ribbons, no pennants, no jerseys, no action photos of John Stockton adorn the walls. Paneling adorns the walls.
"Every year I grab one of those posters of John and tack it up, and every year Jack takes it right down," says Dan Crowley, Jack Stockton's partner for 26 years. Says Jack: "It's an unspoken agreement between us. John would be terribly embarrassed about it, and so would I."
If a Hollywood studio needed a location for a film about a close-knit Irish family—Moonstruck with shamrocks and green beer, perhaps—it could do worse than to choose the neighborhood where Jack and Clemy (short for Clementine) Stockton settled down 26 years ago. The neighborhood is known locally as the "Little Vatican," both for its preponderance of Roman Catholics and for the unusually high number of its young boys who have become priests. Crosby grew up in the neighborhood—his boyhood home is now the Gonzaga alumni house—and Jack Stockton says there's little doubt that Bing drew the inspiration for the priests he portrayed in Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's from the neighborhood Jesuits.
The Stocktons were loyal churchgoers, but the priesthood was never in the cards for the two sons, who were otherwise engaged, knocking over fences in the front yard during ferociously contested sibling showdowns. Steve, four years older than John, is only 5'9", but he was a fine basketball player and an outstanding high school baseball pitcher. In his senior year at Gonzaga Prep, he struck out a North Central High School sophomore named Ryne Sandberg three times in one game. John credits his competitiveness to his adolescent, and postadolescent, battles with Steve. Over at Gonzaga, the Stocktons have been known as Cain and Abel since they squared off a few years ago during a pickup game.