End of an era


    By Neal Lutz

    Not much has changed for Jazz point guard John Stockton throughout the 19 years he”s been with the Jazz.

    Up until his 1,698th game Stockton still had the same haircut, he still wore the same short shorts and he still came to play with his game face every night.

    Now that he has retired, he”s still the same old Stockton.

    He showed up to the “Salute to Stockton” retirement party at the Delta Center Saturday wearing khakis and a button-down shirt in place of his trademark shorts, but Stockton still had on his stoic game face. Behind that deadpan expression, Stockton said he was holding back a flood of emotions.

    “I was really touched,” Stockton said at a news conference after the event. “I tried to block out most things. It was emotional, and I don”t like to go there a whole lot.”

    Others close to Stockton had less success keeping back their emotions.

    Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and Coach Jerry Sloan each got misty-eyed as they expressed their feelings for Stockton. But longtime teammate Karl Malone summed it up best, as the 6-foot-9-inch power forward told Stockton he loved him.

    “It”s kinda corny in today”s society, to say you love another guy,” Malone said afterwards at the news conference. “But I”ll miss him to death.”

    It”s not just Stockton”s passing skills that Malone will miss – whether Malone will be back to play another season for the Jazz or not, other guys will get him the ball – it was Stockton”s friendship and the things he taught him off the court that left a lasting impression on Malone, he said.

    “He taught me more than just the game of basketball,” Malone said. “He taught me things as a person that will follow me the rest of my life.”

    Stockton”s influence extended far beyond the walls of the Delta Center, but his effect was strongest on those closest to him.

    “Thank you, thank you,” Miller said to Stockton. “I could say it a thousand times. Thanks for what you did, and who you”ve been”

    Most of the praise during the tribute was for Stockton the person, not Stockton the athlete. His wife, Nada, recognized both.

    “As a fan, thank you. I”ve enjoyed every minute of basketball,” she said in her address. “His greatest steal was when he stole my heart, and his greatest assist was when he handed each of our six newborn children to me in the hospital.”

    Although Stockton”s accomplishments as a husband and father are his greatest achievements, from Nada and John”s perspective, to the millions of fans Stockton never allowed into his personal life, there was just the competitive, hard-working athlete.

    Letters of praise from President George W. Bush and Gov. Michael Levitt were read in tribute to Stockton. NBA commissioner David Stern scheduled a layover between San Antonio and New Jersey to give his praise to Stockton and secure an invitation from him to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson gave Stockton the key to the city and Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman renamed a stretch of 300 W. John Stockton Drive.

    All of these honors were given to Stockton the athlete: the 6-foot-1-inch NBA all-time career assists and steals leader.

    Jazz personnel and players said they will surely miss these aspects of John Stockton”s life; but it is the man they will miss most.

    As for John Stockton, he said will miss it all.

    “I thank God for letting me live in this country,” Stockton said as he ended his speech. “And for letting my path cross with so many of yours.”

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