Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Meeting Your Heroes

Title: Assisted: An Autobiography
Author: John Stockton with Kerry L. Pickett
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publication Date: October 2013

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -
John Stockton's autobiography, Assisted, pulls back the curtain on his very personal life to show fans a thoughtful recounting of the people, places, and events that have connected with John along his path of extraordinary success. This book clearly illustrates the importance of his family, his faith, and his unparalleled competitive spirit.

My Review:

Well, I wasn't alive for the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 was still some years away - so here's my ultimate "Where Were You?" moment in history (fast forward to 5:14) -

May 29, 1997 - It’s late. My sister, Emily, and my brother, Mark, and I are all in our pajamas ready for bed. But none of us are sleepy. Mom’s gone to my Grandma Johnson’s to deliver her birthday gift (it’s Grandma’s birthday). My two youngest sisters are... somewhere (at ages 3-and-a-half and 2, they were probably in bed asleep. Or maybe Alison was there jumping on my parents’ bed with us and little Shalayne was probably with my mom. Hey, some details just aren't that important). Dad was watching us, but he was on edge just like us kids.

2.8 seconds. That’s all that’s left in the game. The Houston Rockets had scored to tie the game at 100 points apiece and the Jazz had possession of the ball and the lead in the playoff series (barely - damn Eddie Johnson). A quick timeout and the TV switched to commercial. My twelve-year-old brain mentally calculated “We’re either going to score or the game’s going into overtime. We have a good chance of winning either way. We’re either going to score or go into overtime.”

Of course, this “we” business didn’t really mean much in the long run. But they were my Jazz from the word go. And even at my tender years, I felt part of the moment. Everyone in Utah did (well, except for those boring old hipster douchebags who thought that cheering for the hometown team was too far beneath them and opted instead to cheer for scum like the Los Angeles Lakers. Whom the Jazz had dispatched from the playoffs weeks earlier, I might point out).

The game came back on and we scurried back to my parents’ room and onto the bed, eyeballs glued to the TV screen. The announcers said... something, I don’t remember what. All I saw was a line of purple uniforms waiting to inbound the ball and another line of white uniforms trying to disrupt it in any way they could. The ref handed the ball to Bryon Russell, who passed it in, starting the clock. Everything happened so fast - the clock ticked down, John Stockton got the ball at the three-point line, that one dopey announcer said “Uh-oh,” Stockton launched the ball over Charles Barkley, the ball went in, the clock ran out...

And our house went ballistic!

The kids jumped off the bed and ran around the house. Dad ran after us, high-fiving and cheering. Our celebrations mirrored those taking place on the court in Houston. With that one three-point shot - a shot I had seen John Stockton make hundreds of times on TV and I could only dream of ever making - my fandom life tipped over into a brand new watershed, though I didn’t know it at the time.

The Utah Jazz - scrappy, basic, clean-cut, fundamental little team that they were - were headed to the NBA Finals. And we fans were ecstatic!

To say I've been a fan of the Jazz my entire life - well, that begins to paint the picture, I guess. My earliest childhood memories are sitting on my grandmother’s lap with a big bowl of popcorn watching Jazz games on my grandpa’s big screen TV with the sound muted and the voice of the Jazz, Hot Rod Hundley, giving the much-higher quality play-by-play from the radio (when I was little, we had three-and-a-half channels and none of them carried the Jazz games, so we went to my grandparents’ house to watch. It was quality family-bonding time before the family all went batshit crazy. Well... before I realized how batshit crazy they were). As I got older, my Jazz fandom only increased - from playing in Junior Jazz (the little league basketball program the Jazz organization sponsors) to saving newspaper clippings of important games to devouring the monthly HomeCourt magazine. Even learning how to draw the Jazz logo so I could decorate my notebooks at school (in purple and teal, of course - none of this crappy powder blue nonsense). And from the word “go,” I had two basketball heroes - Karl Malone and John Stockton. The best basketball players ever to pick up ball and no one could ever convince me otherwise (I even traded an $80 Michael Jordan trading card so I could have a special Stockton-to-Malone print that wasn't worth near as much - an incident the boys at school never let me live down, but I didn't care. Michael Jordan had enough people fawning over him - he didn't need my adoration).

So, when John Stockton’s autobiography was announced earlier this year, I was ecstatic! Here was a guy who I admired for his basketball abilities - but also for his integrity and honor off the court. When I’d watch post-game interviews, he always struck me as a good person, someone who didn't get off on showboating or fame or celebrity - which, being from a down-to-earth rural background in a down-to-earth rural state was so much more appealing than all that flashy crap from LA and Chicago. Plus, Stockton was a quiet leader - something I identified with even as a kid. He didn't have to be the center of attention to make an impact on his teammates and community - he just showed up, did the job, set a good example and that was that.

Don’t think that didn't make an impression on a farm girl from Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah.

However, as I read Assisted, I found more and more that I really didn't know a whole lot about my hero. I did appreciate the insights into John’s childhood and how he came to play basketball. A lot of what he describes is in the vein of “And one thing led to another and suddenly, I’m in the NBA” (okay, okay - there was more to it than that). But, I guess is just how life goes for most people (though, without the part about playing professional basketball. Mostly). The whole thing reads the way I remember Stockton’s post-game interviews on TV - down-to-earth, no-nonsense, tell it like it is. He’s here to play ball and all that extra stuff doesn't matter - even though the media seems to think it does. And it’s just the perfect glimpse into the life of a guy who I've never met, but who made such an impression on my life that’s really difficult to put into words. I mean, I cried when he retired, but I knew that it had to happen eventually. Just didn't think it would be the same month I graduated from high school (oh, how life bookends itself sometimes). And watching Jazz games just isn't quite the same without the Old Guard anchoring the team (oh here, listen to me waffling on like an old lady, pining for the good ol' days of my youth).

This isn't so much a review as a reflection of my memories of watching the Jazz as I was growing up. I’m still a fan of the Jazz, but life has taken me elsewhere - far from that scrappy little twelve-year-old who tried to mimic Karl Malone’s footwork in the driveway, in hopes of someday playing in the WNBA (Ha! I barely made the JV squad my senior year of high school. I had much more confidence in my abilities than were actually there. The regrets and failed opportunities of my life could fill several volumes).

MY POINT IS - that this was a fun little read that let me revisit some of my own happy memories of cheering for the Jazz in those wonderful days of the playoffs and winning seasons, but also to gain insight into a remarkable man who happened to be one of the greatest basketball players ever. Someone who didn't care who got the credit, who embodied the spirit of competition, and who was just a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Back to that night in '97 - Mom stayed at Grandma’s house to watch the end of the game. When the game was over and everyone’s excitement had ebbed to the point that normal conversation could be had, Grandma turned to Mom and asked “Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Mom handed Grandma the wrapped birthday gift. “Happy Birthday, Mary. Though, I think John Stockton gave you the better birthday present.” (Grandma agreed - though that was just Grandma's way).

With the modern-day emphasis on glitz and glamour and fame in pro sports, I don’t think there will ever be another player like John Stockton to make it to the big leagues. On one level, that makes me sad, since I learned so much from watching him (and the rest of the team, let’s be honest) play and there are probably tons of kids out there who could do with some positive role models. On another level, it makes the time that he was playing that much more special. Magic Johnson gives way to Michael Jordan gives way to LeBron James gives way to... who the heck knows? (Jabari Parker, perhaps?) But there’s only ever going to be one John Stockton in the history of hoops. And maybe that is as it should be.

No comments:

Post a Comment