"That was all it took," former Jazz center Mark Eaton said. "A guy would come limping into the locker room and he would get that look from John. All the sudden, the limp would go away. He didn't need to say anything. But you knew the way things were in John's eyes. If you could walk, you could play, and if you could play, you were 100 percent."
Over the course of 19 seasons, durability was one of Stockton's strengths, and he demanded the same from teammates. He suited up for 1,504 out of a possible 1,526 games, only missing time for two stretches of his career. That's one reason he was able to establish an incredible NBA record for career assists, with 15,806 — well ahead of Mark Jackson, No. 2 on the list at 10,334. It's also a big part of the reason Stockton will get the call from the Hall of Fame on Friday. He played through sore knees. He played through illness. He even played for the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics despite a stress fracture in his leg.
"I will tell you, there was one year in the early '90s and we were playing Seattle in the playoffs," said Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson. "John had an elbow injury, and he could not lift his right arm. He spent most of the series dribbling with his left hand. He even considered shooting free throws with his left hand, but he did not want to let the Sonics know that he was hurt. He never told the press, never told anyone. After the season, he had surgery on his elbow. No one ever knew. We knew in the locker room only because he didn't want to hurt the team. But he hated for anyone outside to ever know he was hurt."
There was more to Stockton than merely staying on the court and his famed reluctance to let the media know about his injuries (or to let the media know anything else, for that matter). His toughness and work ethic were big parts of his identity, but they should not overshadow the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest natural playmaker in NBA history and perhaps the best point guard ever to run the pick-and-roll. He led the league in assists nine straight times, from the 1987-88 to the 1995-96 seasons, and put up a record 14.5 assists per game in 1989-90. He holds the NBA career record for steals (3,265), also by a wide margin. And, when needed, he could shoot-Stockton made 51.5 percent from the field in his career, and 38.4 percent from the 3-point line.
"You could say he was the perfect player in the way he handled himself, the way he prepared himself to play," coach Jerry Sloan said. "He is one of the few guys who when you watched him play point guard, from the time he started off as a little guy, he was always facing the basket. He never played with his back to the basket."
He got that, of course. And much, much more. Stockton remains the NBA's gold standard for playmakers, and it's hard to imagine someone even nearing his assists record. "When I am asked about John," Johnson said, "I go to what (late Jazz owner) Larry Miller used to say: John Stockton is exactly what you would want him to be."
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