» John Blanchette
/ Staff writer
SALT LAKE CITY _ Historical figures, John Stockton called them. Magic, the Big O, Cousy - historical, each one.
“I don't fit into that category, quite honestly,” he said.
The modesty is typical, the sentiment admirable, the veracity doubtful.
For whether he likes it or not, John Stockton is now a historical figure. One elementary pass Wednesday night and 9,921 of varying ornamentation before that one make it so.
Let it be recorded that history was made at 10 minutes before 8 o'clock, Mountain time - a high-and-outside bounce pass that Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone corraled with his right hand and buried in the cords with a turnaround jump shot over Denver's Brian Williams.
Stockton's contribution to the transaction - his 11th assist of the night - pushed him past Magic Johnson and atop the National Basketball Association's all-time list, so they stopped the game for about two minutes - one minute for his teammates, coaches, family and 19,911 fans to acknowledge the moment, the second minute to clear the 38 minicams tracking the event off the floor.
Actually, they could have stopped the game altogether. The crowd - supercharged from the opening basket - was thoroughly spent thereafter, having seen what it had come to see.
“There was a momentum to it and it seemed like the guys weren't going to let it not happen,” said Stockton. “And the crowd - on our first basket, they went crazy. Everybody sensed the energy in the air.”
And Malone's basket put the Jazz ahead 49-25 with 6:22 still left to play in the first half. At that point, it would have been a mercy killing. The Jazz romped 129-88.
“It was really a perfect night,” said Stockton's relief, John Crotty. “We win the game, we blow them out, John gets the record and Karl gets the shot.”
In that respect, however, the assist of the night belonged to Rodney Rogers.
The Jazz hit some hot licks from the beginning. Stockton had five assists and a basket in six consecutive trips down the floor in the first quarter - the Jazz leading 25-4 when coach Jerry Sloan gave Stockton his customary breather.
At the quarter break, it was Malone who sat down, but Stockton was back at it with four second-stringers - at one point getting it to Adam Keefe for a layup while wearing 6-foot-8 Denver rookie Jalen Rose as a shawl.
So efficient were Johnny and the JVs that the moment seemed to sneak up on Sloan and Malone - though the crowd had been beckoning once the count got down to three.
Tom Chambers swished a 20-footer for No. 9,921 - tying Magic's record - and finally Sloan hustled Malone to the scorer's table.
It was almost too late. Jazz rookie Jamie Watson blocked Williams' shot at the other end and Stockton triggered another break - with Malone looking on helplessly. Stockton fired a one-handed bullet to Chambers streaking down the right side that was either going to be a dunk or a layup until Rogers lunged and slapped the ball off Chambers' knee and out of bounds.
The horn blew and Malone checked in for Antoine Carr - and to be on the receiving end of No. 9,922.
“I've never seen the fans act like they did,” said Malone. “They were putting a lot of pressure on coach Sloan to put me back in.”
Uh-uh, said Crotty: “Karl was trying to put himself back into the game.”
Whoever made the call, Stockton seconded it.
“You never want to point to one guy and say, `Oh, I hope it's him,' ” Stockton said. “But now at this point, he's been responsible for so many of them, it does seem fitting he did it.
“I mentioned before, I don't consider this my record. These guys have had to make shots and Karl's made a zillion of them.”
Did Sloan call that play specifically?
“As you know, we've been very predictable for a number of years,” he said, taking the opportunity to dart his critics, “and we were very predictable on that play.”
After that, it was mostly waiting around for the post-game ceremony, though the blowout continued apace.
Did Crotty say perfect? Hey, he even got six assists. In all, 41 of the 51 Jazz baskets were assisted and Utah made 60 percent of its shots, so someone was going to get a record this night.
Stockton finished with 16 of the assists and did not commit a turnover.
Amazingly, three-fourths of the crowd stuck around for the postgame entertainment, which ran the gamut from heartfelt to hokey.
Stockton's parents, Jack and Clemy, had been flown in from Spokane. His wife, Nada, and the four Stockton children were on hand - or in hand, 16-month-old Lindsay being passed around from Carr to Nada and finally to John.
And there were a slew of guests, live and on tape. Sen. Orin Hatch said something about needing Stockton's assist in balancing the budget and read a telegram from the First Fan. The governor and the mayor each proclaimed Wednesday and Thursday John Stockton Day. Owner Larry Miller said Stockton should aim for 15,000 assists, which brought a grimace to the little guard's face.
For humor, there was Jazz president Frank Layden, who said, “Of all the people you should thank, you should thank me. Seven years ago, I quit coaching. If I had coached you any longer, you probably would have been playing for Detroit and it would have taken you five more years to break the record.”
And for sentiment, there was Magic - on the Jumbotron screen telling Stockton, “You are the greatest leader I've ever played against.
“Remember at the Olympics? You said, `Earvin, what is it like to win a championship? Well, you've accomplished the assist record, and now I want you to accomplish that goal.”
It would make him even more of a historical figure - Magic, Cousy, the Big O all won them. He is more of their time, anyway, and not of the 1990s, when historical figures in the NBA are measured by rap videos and shoe commercials - or by chairs thrown, practices missed and shoelaces untied.
He doesn't fit into that category, quite honestly.