John Houston Stockton giveth and he taketh away.
The greatest passer in NBA history finished his career as the league’s all-time assist leader, with 15,806. He also amassed 3,265 steals, more than anyone ever to play the game.
Born March 26, 1962, in Spokane, Washington, as one of Jack and Clemy Stockton’s four children, he attended grade school at St. Aloysius. Stockton then matriculated to Gonzaga Prep, a Jesuit, co-educational high school in Spokane’s Logan neighborhood and alma mater of the great Bing Crosby. He starred as a point guard for the Bullpups basketball team, averaging 23 points per game as a senior, breaking the city scoring record and shooting 56 percent from the floor during his high school career. After weighing scholarship offers from the University of Montana and University of Idaho, the gritty playmaker decided to stay close to home. On Easter Sunday, 1980, John announced he would attend Gonzaga University, alma mater of his father and the school for which his grandfather, Houston Stockton, had been a standout football player in the 1920s. In his four years at Gonzaga, Stockton became the first Bulldog in history to register over 1,000 points and 500 assists. As a senior, he averaged nearly 20 points per game, led the West Coast Athletic Conference in scoring, assists and steals and was named league MVP. While his Gonzaga classmates prepared for graduation ceremonies, John Stockton was commuting to Bloomington, Indiana, to compete for one of 12 spots on coach Bob Knight’s 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team. He made the final 20 before being released—along with Charles Barkley [Daily Dose, February 19].
The 1984 NBA Draft is considered the most talented in league history as four of the top 16 players chosen ended up in the Naismith Hall of Fame. The Utah Jazz stunned their fans by selecting 6’1”, 175 pound John Stockton with the 16th overall pick. Analysts believed the Jazz needed size, but chief scout and assistant coach Scott Layden thought otherwise. “He’s a throwback. He does so many things well, and with such control. John has all the quickness you want, and he takes the ball to the basket.” After setting a club record for assists and steals, Stockton was named to the All-Rookie team. The following year, Utah drafted Karl “Mailman” Malone, who would team with Stockton to become one of the greatest scoring duos in NBA history. In his fourth season, Stockton emerged as Utah’s starting point guard and broke the single-season assists record—held by Isiah Thomas, who Stockton chose to present him upon his Hall of Fame induction two decades later. It was the first of nine straight seasons in which “Stock” would lead the league in assists. In 1992, he was named to the “Dream Team,” [Daily Dose, September 21] winning the first of two gold medals he would earn with Team USA. In 1993, he and Malone were named co-MVPs of the NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. Stockton led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both to the Chicago Bulls. He played the 1,504th and final game of his career—third most in NBA history—in May 2003 before retiring. The Jazz retired his number 12 jersey the following year.
John Stockton led his team to the playoffs in each of his 19 NBA seasons and played in all 82 games during 17 of those campaigns. Fast, gritty and durable, he saw the floor as well as anyone who ever played. Prior to Stockton’s arrival, two players in NBA history—Isiah Thomas and Kevin Porter–had handed out 1,000 assists in a season. Magic Johnson [Daily Dose, August 14], whom Stockton passed in 1995 as the league’s all-time assist leader, never handed out 1,000 assists in any his 13 year NBA seasons. Mr. Stockton did it seven times, including a record five seasons in a row. He holds the NBA record for most assists in a season [1,164] and career [15,806]. Stock twice led the league in steals, retiring as the NBA’s all-time leader. In 2001, he played in his 1,271st game with the Jazz, breaking John Havilcek’s record for most games with one team. Stockton was a ten-time NBA All-Star, was voted one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame twice—in 2009, as an individual player, and in 2010, as part of the Dream Team. Former UCLA coach John Wooden [Daily Dose, October 14] once said Stockton was the NBA player he enjoyed watching most and was the only one he’d pay to see. Stockton’s wife, Nada, is the daughter of the last governor of the Alaska Territory and they have six children, including a daughter who plays for the Montana State Lady Bobcats, where John Stockton serves as assistant basketball coach.
On this date in 1991, John Stockton handed out his 1,135th assist of the season in a 130-103 victory over the Seattle Supersonics at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. Stockton broke his own single-season record of 1,134 that he had set the prior season and would finish the 1990-91 campaign with a record 1,164 assists, which remains an NBA record.