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"The best pure
point guard
who ever
played
the game"
--Charles
Barkley


 
3/24/2002
Stockton shrugs off milestone birthday

 John Stockton is pushing 40. It shows in the creases from his smile, a little deeper in his face, and a few flecks of gray in his dark hair.

One place it rarely shows: on the basketball court.

Stockton's 7.9 assist average ranks sixth in the NBA, and even in his 18th season, it's not unusual to see him go deep into double-digits. It's remarkable, considering most players listed ahead of him are in their mid-20s.

“I'm still playing, so that's a little more of a plus than a minus,” the Utah Jazz point guard said, as understated today as he was when he joined the league in 1984.

Stockton, a product of Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University, celebrates his 40th birthday Tuesday, when the Houston Rockets come to town.

“It's just a day,” he said. “I don't all of a sudden become a year older when the day comes. I'll just be a day older.”

There have been plenty of days for Stockton in the NBA. Years ago, anybody who played to 35 was considered a dinosaur.

Stockton admits he's not the same player of 10 years ago. He doesn't spend as much time on the practice floor, saving his legs, although he's playing 31 minutes a game, up from 29.2 last year.

“You have to make some concessions but you don't give in to it,” Stockton said. “You have to be aware of what your body's telling you. Rather than play through everything, you have to find ways around it.”

While other 40-year-olds might be cherry-picking for easy baskets at the YMCA, Stockton is still shaking it up in the NBA, fattening his huge margins as the league's career leader in assists and steals.

Stockton has 15,053 assists, almost 5,000 more than second-place Magic Johnson (10,141).

As for steals, Stockton has 3,102. Michael Jordan is a distant second with 2,387.

When Stockton came out of Gonzaga, a first-round choice and the 16th overall pick, Ronald Reagan was seeking his second term and Van Halen ruled the rock music scene.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, then an assistant under Frank Layden, recalled looking at the skinny youngster and having doubts.

“The conversation at the time was, `Will this guy hold up?”' Sloan said. “That's been the least of his problems, but he looked a little frail when you saw him back then.”

How much longer Stockton plays isn't an issue right now. He has said repeatedly that he plans to honor the two-year contract he signed last summer, and Jazz owner Larry Miller certainly won't run him off.

“At the end of the summer, just like I've done the last four or five summers, I'll think things over, talk it over with Larry and Jerry and come to a conclusion,” Stockton said.

On Saturday night, Stockton had 13 points and 15 assists to lead the Utah Jazz to a 112-103 victory over the visiting Golden State Warriors.

 
 
   

Utah Jazz guard John Stockton, right, looks to pass against pressure from Dallas Mavericks guard Steve Nash during an April game in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Steve C. Wilson)
 
 


 
 
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