Jackson on Stockton

Jackson on Stockton: If John Stockton Wasn’t a Great Shooter, There’s No Such Thing1 

By Ken K. Gourdin 

Current Golden State Warriors coach and former NBA point guard Mark Jackson, who spent a year on the Utah Jazz roster with Hall of Famer John Stockton, recently called Stockton “a good to very good shooter.  Not a great shooter.”2  It’s true that I’m not much of an athlete period, let alone a professional athlete, so I’ll admit that I don’t know whereof I speak, at least, not personally.  I believe these observations, however, are common sense:

(1) The longer you play, the more wear-and-tear you’ll experience on your body; the more wear-and-tear you experience on your body, the more difficult it becomes to make a high percentage of shots.

And (2) even if a long-term player is immune to wear-and-tear, the longer you play, the more shots you’ll take; the more shots you take, the greater the likelihood that the law of averages will catch up to you.

True, Stockton wasn’t a “shoot-first” point guard.  However, if that single fact, alone, automatically disqualifies him from being considered among the best shooters in NBA history, it still puts him in a class by himself.  No one ever is likely to eclipse Stockton’s all-time assist total.

These two things—the fact that he did not wear down over time and the fact that he shot a high percentage despite taking so many shots—combine to take John Stockton’s shooting statistics out of the realm of the mundane and into the realm of the noteworthy.  In fact, in my view, those statistics aren’t simply noteworthy; they’re amazing.  If John Stockton wasn’t a great shooter, then there’s no such thing.

It’s not simply that John Stockton was so good; it’s that he was so good for so long.  And even if you buy Jackson’s argument that John Stockton was “a good to very-good shooter, not a great shooter,” it was Stockton—not “Pistol Pete” Maravich, not Hornacek, not Darrell Griffith, not Jeff Malone, not anyone else Jackson might put in the “great shooter” category who wore a Jazz uniform—who indisputably made the greatest shot in Jazz history.

Jackson’s problem is that if he did try to take shots—in this instance, I’m talking about metaphorical or rhetorical shots, not gunshots—at Stockton during the year he spent on Utah’s roster, he had little (if any) ammunition (or if he did, Stockton had the bullet-stopping equivalent of Superman’s suit or Wonder Woman’s bracelets): no matter how long they’d been in a Jazz uniform and no matter how long Jackson had been in the NBA, everybody in that locker room knew that it was John Stockton’s, and Karl Malone’s, and Jerry Sloan’s locker room.  To a lesser extent, though he probably joined Stockton in leading nonvocally, it was also Jeff Hornacek’s locker room.

Even though he wasn’t a vocal leader, everybody knew John Stockton was the leader of that team—both on the floor and off.  And whether they stood up vocally to any criticism Mark Jackson might have leveled against Stockton, it’s very likely that, since they understood the “pecking order” and their place in it, even if they agreed with any of Jackson’s rumored criticisms of Stockton, few (if any) players would have done so aloud.

John Stockton’s tacitly acknowledged (and deserved) status as the team’s leader, combined with the fact that Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, and (probably most importantly) Jerry Sloan would have spoken, immediately and probably forcefully (if not vociferously), in Stockton’s defense, would have rendered any of Jackson’s criticisms impotent and futile.

Since, with few notable exceptions, the Jazz organization is famously closed and tight-lipped when it comes to most all matters (and even more so with respect to potential “dirty laundry”), we’re left only to speculate.  Nothing concrete (that is, nothing beyond bare rumor) ever has emerged with regard to Jackson being an alleged “locker room cancer” or attempting to turn the rest of the team against Stockton—except that Jackson only spent a single year in Utah.

Perhaps Jackson’s short tenure as a member of the Jazz, standing alone, is insufficient evidence to conclude that the rumors about his alleged attempts to divide the locker room by turning the rest of the team against Stockton are true.  But assuming Jackson had the same feelings about Stockton then that he has expressed publicly since, no one ever will be able to dismiss the rumors as completely baseless or wildly inaccurate.


1. Although this is the second consecutive post concerning basketball, the NBA, and ex-NBA players, I do not wish give readers the idea that this is an NBA- or basketball-themed blog.  However, since I am an avid fan of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, these subjects are likely to come up occasionally. 
2. See Aaron Falk (January 6, 2014), “Mark Jackson on John Stockton: ‘Good to very good shooter. Not a great shooter.’,” Utah Jazz Notes (Web log), The Salt Lake Tribune, accessed on line at http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsjazznotes/57359821-62/percent-shooter-stockton-hornacek.html.csp on January 9, 2014.

Update, January 30, 2014: Thomsen on Jackson and Stockton – SI’s Ian Thomsen on Jackson and Stockton and the Jazz’s locker-room dynamic when both were on the roster:

The NBA’s alltime assist leader may be getting a push out the door by his new backup this season and the No. 2 man on the career assist list, 38-year-old Mark Jackson. Three members of the Jazz organization now understand why Jackson has been traded seven times in his 16-year career: They say that over a period of weeks, he succeeded in turning several teammates against Stockton by repeatedly remarking that those players would be better off if Jackson were the Jazz’s floor leader. Other players rallied around Stockton, who, because of his quiet nature, was vulnerable to the locker room politicking. The rift on the Jazz was mended, though not before Stockton’s pride had been wounded. “There was no question it hurt John, because you could see him withdraw,” says a high-ranking team official. “But he’ll never talk about it, just as he won’t talk about injuries, because then he feels like he’s making excuses for himself.”

Jackson says his actions were in no way aimed at Stockton. “I’m a born leader, and if people take that as manipulation, then maybe they haven’t been around leaders,” he says. “I make no apologies for embracing people and talking to people and making them feel like they’re important. Maybe in the past those stray dogs have been left on the side, but that’s not the way I treat people.”

Sloan reached a breaking point in mid-January, when he lost his temper over the divisiveness on his team and stormed out of the gym during practice. He was threatening to retire then and there, only to be dissuaded at an emergency meeting called by team owner Larry Miller, president Dennis Haslam, general manager Kevin O’Connor and Sloan’s wife, Bobbye. “That had the real potential of Jerry saying, ‘To heck with it,’ and walking away,” says Miller, who believes that Sloan’s seven-game suspension for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland on Jan. 28 was the result of his built-up frustrations. Sloan’s 15 seasons with the Jazz are the longest stretch with the same team by any coach currently in pro sports, and he maintains that he isn’t thinking ahead to next year. “I talk in terms of days,” he says half-jokingly, “because any day in this business they can fire you.”1


1. Ian Thomsen (April 14, 2003) “A Change in ZIP Code?” Sports Illustrated, accessed on line at the following address on January 30, 2014: http://www.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1028560/1/index.htm

About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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