In 1997 I was a freshman in college, and during the Finals my housemate, Bill, came to a realization about John Stockton. He was a robot. Bill meant it in the best possible way. Stockton was clearly a creation of Skynet, sent back in time to perfect the point guard position. I mean it’s pretty obvious when you look at it.
John was never hurt. John was never tired. John’s shooting form was precise, the mechanics perfect, and his percentages made other point guards look decidedly human. John saw the court like no one else, like he had a HUD inside his eyes complete with zoom feature and targeting system. John made full-court one-handed passes like a 230 pound quarterback, the sort of dart-like accuracy that is practically impossible for a 180 pounder without a nuclear powered titanium endoskeleton. John played top level ball 10 years longer than any small point guard made of flesh and bone could have managed. John never showed emotion. John couldn’t be reasoned with. He couldn’t be bargained with. John didn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and he absolutely would not stop until Karl Malone dunked on you. John was a robot.
As the 2009 Basketball Hall of Fame inductions approach, there are articles about Stockton popping up, stories about his selfless play and private nature. The common theme is that John became the prototype of the modern point guard.
I disagree. A prototype is meant to be emulated, but how do you emulate genius? How do you teach a young guard the sort of anticipation skills that let him see the game two steps ahead of the defense, to find angles that no one else could and create the best possible shot for his team play after play? Can John’s reliable combination of patience, vision, discipline and opportunistic aggression be imitated?
I think John Stockton, like Magic and Bird, was lightning in a bottle. There are a lot of point guards today who are bigger, stronger, faster, more explosive. A lot of point guards have a great handle and great vision. A lot of point guards can run a great pick and roll. But nobody, not Kidd, not Nash, not even Chris Paul has captured Stockton’s combination of perfect timing and impeccable decision-making. His game is tough to capture in highlights or even by watching a few select games. Stockton ran the offense. The Utah Jazz never had the most talented team. They started immobile, graceless centers, and unathletic wing players. They ran a fairly simple, repetitive system. It didn’t matter. Stockton ran the offense and made sure that the ball was in the hands of the right shooter at the right time. It made no difference that Brian Russell couldn’t create his own shot or that Greg Ostertag couldn’t shoot beyond 5 feet from the rim. Stockton knew when and how to get them shots they could make. He added value to players who would not have contributed without him. He made a group of individuals into a team that beat a Rockets squad with 3 All-Stars in 1997 and a Lakers squad with 4 All-Stars in 1998.
I’m actually fascinated by this year’s HoF ceremony for the chance to see John Stockton forced to make a speech. What is he going to talk about? Certainly not his own exploits. He must have as much knowledge of the game as anyone on the planet. He certainly has a litany of accomplishments to dazzle his listeners. I have a feeling any on-court information he gives will be to complement his teammates and coaches. I have a feeling any off-court information he gives will be to complement his family and coaches. And I won’t be surprised if he stands in front of those cameras and tells the ESPN watching world that he’s looking for John Connor.