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Not a Passing Fancy
Jack McCallum
April 25, 1988
Utah's surprising John Stockton is the NBA assist leader, and he can score and play plenty of solid defense, too
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April 25, 1988

Not A Passing Fancy

Utah's surprising John Stockton is the NBA assist leader, and he can score and play plenty of solid defense, too

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John was blessed with more size than Steve, but it took him a while to grow into his body. As a high school freshman he stood only 5'5" and weighed 90 pounds, yet he had the same size-11½ feet and huge hands (set palm against palm, they are nearly as big as 6'10" teammate Marc Iavaroni's) he has today. By the time he graduated from Gonzaga Prep, he was 6 feet, but he still looked as if he were 14 years old.

"Don't think that didn't scare some recruiters away," says Fitzgerald. "George Raveling [then the coach at Washington State] didn't come after John and later admitted it was the biggest recruiting mistake he ever made." Fitzgerald had an advantage—he saw Stockton's fire and competitiveness up close.

Each season at Gonzaga, Stockton got a little better, climbing another rung on the ladder, and as a senior he led the West Coast Athletic Conference in scoring, assists and steals. Stockton fared well in the postseason meat markets held for the benefit of the pro scouts, too, and by the time Knight's '84 Olympic squad was pared to 20, nobody was surprised that the Gonzo point guard from Gonzaga was still around, explaining to reporters from all over the country how the second syllable is pronounced. He, Charles Barkley and Terry Porter were among the late cuts, but it didn't matter as far as many of the pro scouts were concerned—John Stockton was a genuine first-rounder. Immediately after Utah made him the 16th pick, Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley got him on a conference call at the Salt Palace.

"Is everyone booing?" Stockton asked Hundley.

"No, they're not saying, 'Boo,' " said Hundley. "They're saying, 'Who?' "

Stockton always had considerable athletic talent, coming as he does from a good gene pool. Before Gonzaga abandoned football, John's paternal grandfather, Houston Stockton, played football there under Gus Dorais, the former Notre Dame quarterback who popularized the forward pass; Houston is still recognized as Gonzaga's best player. John has tremendous quickness, a quality without which he simply would not have made it as a pro, as well as superb natural endurance—he once ran an eight-mile race in about 42 minutes without training. His peripheral vision and his hands—"Cousy-sized hands," says Hundley—are ideal for a point guard.

Finally, and not insignificantly, he has the temperament of a world-class athlete. "He may look like an altar boy, but there's a lot of street in that kid," says his father. Stockton's control of the Jazz offense is every bit as absolute as Magic's control of the Laker offense, though not as outwardly emotive. Stockton doesn't hesitate to wave Malone away when the Mailman doesn't have a secure enough postup position, and Stockton's Irish eyes are not smiling when, say, an overweight Mel Turpin fails to move his considerable bulk to a more advantageous scoring position.

"John is very, very competitive," says Dallas's Derek Harper. "From the first moment he came into the league, he wanted to belong, and he thought he did belong. With that kind of attitude, I'm not surprised he's done what he's done."

It's not surprising that he does what he does in the summer, either. He and his wife, Nada, also a Gonzaga grad (and, incidentally, the daughter of Mike Stepovich, the last territorial governor of Alaska), return to Spokane. Three years ago they bought the property on North Superior right next door to his parents, and Stockton spends much of his free time fixing up the house. Fitzgerald remembers driving by one day last summer and seeing Stockton hanging from the roof, applying siding. "Bet the Jazz would love that," he thought.

When he is not up on the roof or grabbing a beer and sandwich at Jack & Dan's, Stockton can probably be found at the Gonzaga gym, working on his game. And one has to wonder: To what end? Isn't it possible that he reached his limit this season? After all, even allowing for Isiah Thomas's occasional flights of brilliant fancy, the only NBA point guard who truly controls a game is Magic, who is a full eight inches taller than Stockton.

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