- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

John Stockton does not ask to be noticed or celebrated or put into some larger context.

He does not take his social cues from the pop culture figures of the moment or find it necessary to discuss how essential it is to keep it real. He is as real as real is, however he defines it. He does not need your validation. He has his deal, you have yours, and that is as real as it has to be. He is about the game, and the game to him is not a conduit to Madison Avenue or an excuse to impose a lack of musical or acting ability on America. The game is enough.

He is the anti-me player in the age of Dr. Funk. He is so boring, so dry, virtually devoid of personality. His teammates insist he has a sense of humor. You will have to take their word on it.

You are not permitted inside his world beyond the basketball court. His posse is a wife and six children. His next in-depth interview will be the first of his 18-season career. He never has employed an agent. He and Jazz owner Larry Miller get together every few years, decide on a number, and that is the end of it. There are no negotiations in the traditional sense, no breathless updates in the newspapers, no threats and no hard feelings.

Stockton is signed through the 2003-04 season, if he elects to play another two seasons, or even another season. Who knows with Stockton? Who can tell? He lets the Jazz know by the end of each summer after consulting with his family and working out on the hardwood at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., his hometown.

There never is any fuss with Stockton. He just shows up to play the game and then goes home. He is the quintessential gym rat who merely wanted to make enough money to buy a house in the beginning. He never has been obsessed with appearances, with material goods, and the pursuit of more, more, more. He is the son of a tavern owner. The tavern is as nondescript as the player.

By being who he is, seemingly unimpressed with the things that impress us all, Stockton is the bland maverick, the strong, silent type who wears his individualism well.

As a 40-year-old point guard, he is where no point guard ever has been. He is not just functional. He is the essence of the Jazz in a way that even Karl Malone, as a power forward, can't be.

You can't teach Stockton's acute feel for the game. That is what the Kings are discovering in the series. The Kings prefer the ball to be out of Stockton's hands as much as possible. Bad things often happen to the Jazz if someone other than Stockton is trying to make an entry pass or lead the fastbreak or dish to a cutter to the basket.

Stockton is working the 24-second shot clock in this series and suffocating the Kings in the process. The Kings know who they are. They are a fun team, a team that likes to run the floor and be pretty. They are a stronger team than the Jazz, a 61-win team. It is almost comical, this best-of-five series, tied at 1-1. The Kings are better than the Jazz at four positions, and they have a better bench, the better athletes and the better shooters.

All this is working on their heads, of course. It is frustrating to be better than another team and not be allowed to show it because of a 40-year-old guy who should be coaching or doing yardwork or doing something other than playing in the NBA.

Some of Stockton's contemporaries already are head coaches in the NBA. Nate McMillan in Seattle is 37, Isiah Thomas in Indiana and Doc Rivers in Orlando are 40, Byron Scott in New Jersey is 41, and Rick Carlisle in Detroit and Sidney Lowe in Memphis are 42.

Yet Stockton is still out there, unhip and unfashionable as ever, still setting picks on big guys, still driving the opposition nuts with all his subtle tricks.

He never has been cool, which is cool in its way, mostly because his game always has been close to the floor, and he never has felt compelled to put on an unnecessary dribbling exhibition. He does what he has to do, with no wasted movements. If a play requires a two-handed bounce pass, then that is the pass he makes. His simplicity is beautiful, an art form, and more and more a lost art.

Stockton is at the end now, as he has been almost forever, and one of these seasons, the assertion is bound to be correct. His two double-doubles in the series go with a whole lot of incredulous faces.

He is not right.

This series is not right.

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