Commentary

Stockton played the game the right way

Updated: September 11, 2009, 12:47 PM ET
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

John StocktonGlenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesStockton's accomplishments include this bomb over Barkley to win the 1997 West title for the Jazz.
It figures that John Stockton would slip into the Hall of Fame practically unnoticed, overshadowed by the midflight silhouette of a dunking Michael Jordan that is etched in our basketball consciousness.

Few players in any sport have had such a great disparity between their accomplishments and their acclaim. He's the NBA all-time leader in assists and steals -- accomplishments that put him on the same level as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (most points), Wilt Chamberlain (most rebounds) and Hakeem Olajuwon (most blocked shots). They're all iconic. If Stockton gets recognized at all, it's simply for being a good basketball player. No movie cameos, no memorable commercials, no moves named after him.

The reason it's that way is because he wanted it that way. He never cared about anything other than winning games. Trying to get him to do an interview was like trying to wash a cat. He somehow managed to stay hidden even when the lights shined brightest on the NBA stage. Stockton was a member of the golden 1984 draft class and came up in the era when the league's TV ratings crested. Jordan might have denied championship rings to many of his fellow Dream Teamers, but he did bring all of them more attention. Still, Stockton maintained the profile of a CIA agent.

It's not as if things would be different if he came along in this constant-on age. Can you imagine Stockton with a blog or a Twitter account? Bill Belichick tweeting injury updates would be more likely.

In retrospect, it was a media failure. We didn't give Stockton his due, failed to recognize the greatness of one of the game's most productive and durable players. We immortalized Cal Ripken for showing up every day? Stockton played the max amount of games in 17 of his 19 seasons and missed only 22 of a possible 1,526 games.

And he was as big in the clutch as any of his contemporaries. The most important moments in Utah Jazz history have Stockton's fingerprints all over them. In 1997, he made the jump shot that sent the franchise to the NBA Finals for the first time. In the Finals that year, he compiled as complete a finish as you'll ever see when he registered a 3-pointer, a free throw, a steal, two rebounds and an assist on the go-ahead layup in the final three minutes of Game 5. And he saved the Jazz from an embarrassingly early playoff exit in 1999 when he made a jumper with 0.7 left in Game 4 of Utah's first-round series in Sacramento, denying that up-and-coming Kings squad a chance to close out the best-of-five series.

Stockton excelled at keeping the flashy young teams in their place. That Sacramento group was the prototype for the recent Warriors teams, all fun and action and offense. And for all the havoc Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers unleashed on the league from 2000 to 2002, they never did beat Stockton and Karl Malone in 1997 and 1998.

Utah's execution and attention to detail always won out against the younger, more talented teams, and Stockton was the one behind everything. He dribbled the ball with authority, then relinquished it at precisely the right time. He ran the offense on his terms, with patience, content to simply grind opponents down. The enduring image I have of him is after yet another victory over the Shaq-Kobe Lakers at the old Forum. He walked off the court to exchange a quick five with Malone. No jumping or fist pumps. Just another day of work, in a career that should have stood out much more than it did.

J.A. Adande is an ESPN.com senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.