Tuesday night I watched as the Stockton led Jazz beat Sacramento in the second game of the first round of the playoffs. It was amazing to see the 40 year old guard control the tempo of that game. His presence on the court makes all the difference to the Utah team, as it has most of his career. The only years it was not quite so apparent when he was not on the floor was in the two years they played the Bulls for the championship, when Howard Eisely would come in and "almost"take up the slack.
In a recent column in this paper Karen Basso proclaimed him the best point guard ever. While I can't exactly agree with her assessment of Stockton having been the best in history, I certainly think there is a case for that. I do think he has been the best at some things and he is certainly one of the top five of all time. But "best" is in how you measure it. What one sees as best, another doesn't.
What clues me into whether a player is great is how other players feel about him, particularly ones that faced them in rivalries. Naturally that brings us to Magic Johnson. He was one of the color analysts in the pre and post game shows that evening and you can see how much he admires Stockton. The feeling is mutual as one could tell by Stockton's comments after the game when he was reminded that Johnson had said such good things about him from the announcers podium.
"I'm just glad he's up in the booth and not on the floor anymore," stated the Utah guard.
Stockton's records in steals and assists certainly have to do with his longevity. I often hear people say "Well if Magic had been able to keep playing all his available years, Stockton never would have caught him." I also hear "When Jason Kidd is all done he will be the best" as well.
Those comments are filled with ifs and what ifs, not reality. If I had grown to be seven foot five and could shoot three pointers at an 80 percent clip I would be one of the best centers who ever played the game too. But instead I grew to less than 5'9" and was never very good at the sport.
But who knows, may I still have a growth spurt in me at age 50. Maybe I should just keep practicing those 30 footers.
Give me a break. We can't deal in that kind of stuff; we can only deal in reality. And the reality is that when Magic was at his prime, he was a better point guard than Stockton because he could rebound better (at 6'8" I hope so) and do everything else just as well or better than Stockton. I'll never forget the championship game against Philadelphia (who had Dr. J at the time) in 1980. Kareem Abdul Jabbar (whom I consider the best center ever to play the game and I'll probably get hell for that comment too) was injured and Magic played center for much of the contest. Stockton could never do that mainly because of his size.
On the other hand, no point guard has ever played the position as long as Stockton, and still been able to dominate a game like he does. I remember in the early 1970's that the emphasis pro teams in both the NBA and ABA had at the time was on getting big and bigger guys. Everyone thought that was the future of basketball.
It turned out, if you look at the game the way it is today, that the point guards are the ones who actually make or break teams, not 7-8 foot centers. Magic and particularly, Stockton were the ones who changed that belief.
Personally I can't pick between them because they both have been so great in so many ways. I just wish both of them could have played on the same team together.
The word "unbeatable" comes to mind when I think of that.