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Jackson, Mark vs Stockton

Did backup Mark Jackson actually attempt to turn the 2002-03 Utah Jazz locker room against Jazz starting point guard and future Hall-of-Famer John Stockton?

Background

During the 2002 NBA Draft, the Knicks traded Mark Jackson to the Denver Nuggets. The 37-year old quickly let it be known he had no interest in playing on a rebuilding Denver team that would eventually go 17-65, and negotiated a buyout before the start of training camp.

Utah’s 2001-02 backup PG John Crotty had a surprisingly effective season for the Jazz but missed 41 games including the postseason due to knee issues. In the 2002 offseason the Jazz let Crotty walk while penciling in 2001 1st-round pick, talented Raul Lopez, in to assume the backup role behind the 40-year old Stockton. That plan fell apart when Lopez re-injured his ACL in August, sending the Jazz scrambling. They signed a relative unknown in Carlos Arroyo, and then appeared to catch a break when Jackson and the Nuggets agreed to part ways.

The Jazz signed Mark Jackson on October 2, 2002. On that day, Jackson commented “I’m real excited to play for this team because of the class they have and the two Hall of Famers they have.” Jazz VP of Basketball Operations Kevin O’Connor remarked, “I think he wanted to play with a team that had veterans. He’s a veteran who knows how to play the game.”

The 2002-03 Jazz season was a roller-coaster. Utah started the season with DeShawn Stevenson and Andrei Kirilenko in the starting lineup, but the starting unit (including Stockton, Karl Malone and Greg Ostertag) could never seem to mesh. Amidst a 3-7 start, Jerry Sloan replaced Stevenson/Kirilenko with Calbert Cheaney and Matt Harpring in the starting lineup – and the Jazz suddenly vaulted themselves back into the playoff picture, ripping off streaks of 8-1 and 13-3 to find themselves sitting at 25-15 midway through January. Shortly after, Jerry Sloan would be assessed a 7-game league suspension for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland and the Jazz would go 21-17 the rest of the way.

The Attempted Coup

In April, the first reports of friction in the Jazz locker room leaked out, with Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen writing:

[Stockton] may be getting a push out the door by his new backup this season and the No. 2 man on the career assist list, 38-year-old Mark Jackson. Three members of the Jazz organization now understand why Jackson has been traded seven times in his 16-year career: They say that over a period of weeks, he succeeded in turning several teammates against Stockton by repeatedly remarking that those players would be better off if Jackson were the Jazz’s floor leader. Other players* rallied around Stockton, who, because of his quiet nature, was vulnerable to the locker room politicking. The rift on the Jazz was mended, though not before Stockton’s pride had been wounded. “There was no question it hurt John, because you could see him withdraw,” says a high-ranking team official. “But he’ll never talk about it, just as he won’t talk about injuries, because then he feels like he’s making excuses for himself.”

Sloan reached a breaking point in mid-January, when he lost his temper over the divisiveness on his team and stormed out of the gym during practice. He was threatening to retire then and there, only to be dissuaded at an emergency meeting called by team owner Larry Miller, president Dennis Haslam, general manager Kevin O’Connor and Sloan’s wife, Bobbye. “That had the real potential of Jerry saying, ‘To heck with it,’ and walking away,” says Miller, who believes that Sloan’s seven-game suspension for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland on Jan. 28 was the result of his built-up frustrations.”

In 2003 the rumors of the “divide” were that Jackson politicked with several Jazz bench-warmers that they deserved more minutes and that the team needed to run more (with Jackson claiming to be better suited to play that style than Stockton) while Malone, Ostertag, and Harpring backed Sloan (and Stock).

Thomsen’s reports and these whispers were corroborated by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Steve Luhm, who in 2007 wrote:

“During his second season, Amaechi became a member of rebellious clique that also included Mark Jackson and DeShawn Stevenson.* They all were unhappy with the roles, and their discontent fractured a locker room that John Stockton and Karl Malone had run relatively smoothly for 15 years. Although Stockton never said anything to me, others insist that the off-the-court turmoil contributed to his decision to retire after the Jazz were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs.”

*Note: At practice during the 2003 Playoffs, Stevenson screamed and swore at Sloan for not playing him more in Game 1. Stevenson was suspended and sent home prior to Game 2, but made appearances in the following (and final) three games of the series. Years later, Stevenson grew to appreciate his first NBA coach, saying in 2010: “Playing with Jerry Sloan – Jerry’s a strict coach and we had our ups and downs, but I think he made me stronger as a player. He was tough, but he made me who I am now. If I didn’t go through that kind of system and that caliber of coach, I wouldn’t be in the NBA right now.”

Mark Jackson’s Response (via Ian Thomsen):

Jackson says his actions were in no way aimed at Stockton. “I’m a born leader, and if people take that as manipulation, then maybe they haven’t been around leaders,” he says. “I make no apologies for embracing people and talking to people and making them feel like they’re important. Maybe in the past those stray dogs have been left on the side, but that’s not the way I treat people.”

In John Stockton’s recently released “Assisted: An Autobiography,” he makes no mention of Mark Jackson but does cite that in his final seasons:

Some of the older veterans who hadn’t been around our squad” … “…seemed to take offense to any player’s connection with the ‘brass,’ regardless of their history.” … “The grumbling created an undercurrent I hadn’t experienced at any other time of my career.”

The Best Source

There can be no better source than someone who was actually inside the 2003 Jazz lockerroom, and that’s exactly where former Jazz center Greg Ostertag was. No player has had more “run-ins” with Jerry Sloan, although eventually they both grew to respect and care for the other. In 2008, Greg Ostertag called into a radio show and spoke with Jazz host David Locke, in which Ostertag said Mark Jackson would “stir the pot” and the ever-classy Locke referenced Jackson as a 4-letter unprintable word.

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Reading Between The Lines

In January 2003, Mark Jackson recorded the 10,000th assist of his career. He was asked by USA TODAY’s Greg Boeck “What does it mean to you to reach the 10,000-assist club with Johnson and Stockton?” In Jackson’s 79-word answer, he mentions “Magic” twice while never referring to Stockton by name, saying: “I’m a student of the game and I’m well aware of what those guys meant and mean to the game. To be a hundred or so assists away from Magic means more. If you would’ve told me when I was a kid in New York City, backing people down and trying to be Magic, I wouldn’t have believed it. This is a dream come true. I’m very blessed. I played with some great players (who) deserve a lot of credit.”

During Mark Jackson’s tenure as an ABC/ESPN analyst, he became the initial voice to champion the notion that Tim Duncan was the best power forward to ever play (misguided by the fact that Duncan is a center, Malone statistically was a better player, and that even today an overwhelming majority still hold Malone in higher regard). Additionally in a 2010 B.S. Report with Bill Simmons, while briefly analyzing the Utah Jazz Mark Jackson noted that Jerry Sloan’s distinguished record spoke for itself while slipping in a caveat that “I don’t agree” with Sloan’s coaching methods, before continuing on with his discussion.

Mark Jackson’s Credibility

Mark Jackson is a licensed minister who has been married to a gospel singer who is now his fellow pastor since 1990. In June of 2012, the then 47-year old Mark Jackson made headlines as victim of an extortion plot that revealed he had an extramarital affair with a 28-year old stripper in 2006. Jackson initially paid off the victim and her co-conpsiritor with $5,000 and Warriors tickets before eventually going to the FBI as the monetary demands continued.

Following the publicity, Mark Jackson issued this statement: “At that time in my life, I was not pastoring. Three years ago, my wife and I established a ministry. With deepest regret, I want to apologize to my church family. I was wrong. We must live holy.”

I’m not trying to judge another man’s faith, and for the sake of both Mark Jackson and his family I hope he has sincerely and truly turned the corner and put this mistake behind him. However, this incident’s lapse in judgment further exhibits a pattern of hypocrisy where Mark Jackson’s discreet actions belie his reverent words.

Mark Jackson’s 2014 Comments

When asked earlier this week by David Aldridge about the Stockton/Hornacek backcourt (which here at Jazzbasketball has been touted on the sidebar as “The NBA’s Best Shooting Backcourt” for going on a year now), Mark Jackson once again downplayed Stockton’s ability saying:

Hornacek — great shooter. John Stockton — good to very good shooter. Not a great shooter. Don’t get me wrong. He was an all-time great player. But John Stockton would not be considered a great shooter.”

John Stockton was a career 52% shooter and shot 50% or better in 12 of his 19 seasons. Due to his role and unselfish nature, he may not have been the “prolific shooter” Jeff Hornacek was, but it is absurd for anyone to go out of  their way to say Stock wasn’t a “great shooter” when virtually every statistic says otherwise.

I think it’s evident from all the smoking guns that Mark Jackson clearly played antagonistic role in Stockton’s final season, resented Jerry Sloan and his coaching decisions – and judging by his recent comments still holds some sort of grudge against Stockton. As someone infamously likes to say, “hand down, man down” – and Mark Jackson continues to sink lower with his clear bias against John Stockton.

Myth: Confirmed.

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Jazz at Kings 5-14-99

The Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings once had arguably the most heated rivalry in the West – two teams with passionate fan-bases, contrasting styles, and emotional personalities that seemed to gravitate toward each other in the postseason at the turn of the century.

The rivalry began in the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season, in which all three regular season meetings went to overtime and seemed to contain some sort of altercation (such as their 4/13/99 meeting which featured a Greg Ostertag ejection and numerous technical fouls). The Jazz finished that season with the NBA’s best record at 37-13 but tie-breakers pushed them down to the #3-seed and a matchup with the Sacramento Kings who were in their first year of the Vlade Divac/Chris Webber-era.

After the Jazz opened the series with a 117-87 rout, the Kings stole Game 2 in SLC that involved the infamous Webber cheapshot on Stockton that would hamper the 37-year old point guard throughout the postseason, as well as a Bryon Russell sprained ankle. Game 3 went to overtime, where Jazz center Todd Fuller missed 2 FT’s with 4.2 seconds left and Utah trailing by 1 to push the Jazz to the brink of elimination.

With Sacramento leading 2-1 in the best-of-5, Arco Arena was a madhouse for Game 4 as the raucous cowbell-ringing Kings fans could sense imminent victory over the aging and exhausted Utah Jazz. Game 4 was a back-and-forth affair with each team responding to the other team’s mini-runs.

In the 4th-Qtr, Sacramento appeared to deal a dagger when Vernon Maxwell’s three put the Kings ahead 81-76 with 2-minutes remaining – setting the stage for one of the most dramatic finishes in Jazz postseason history.

Kings 81, Jazz 76 – 2:00 4th-Qtr:
1:59 4th-Qtr – Stockton finger-roll on side pick&roll with Malone; 81-78 Kings
1:48 4th-Qtr – Chris Webber 1-2 FT’s posting up Russell; 82-78 Kings.
1:30 4th-Qtr – Shandon Anderson left-corner three; 82-81 Kings.
1:16 4th-Qtr – Vlade Divac 2-2 FT’s posting up Malone; 84-81 Kings.
0:57 4th-Qtr – Anderson left-corner three; 84-84.
0:31 4th-Qtr – Anderson transition layup off feed from Stockton; 86-84 Kings.
0:23 4th-Qtr – Divac three-point play posting up Malone and fouled by Stockton; 87-86 Kings.
0:13 4th-Qtr – Malone layup off high screen-roll with Stockton; 88-87 Jazz.
0:07 4th-Qtr – Divac 2-2 FT’s posting up Ostertag; 89-88 Kings.
0:00.7 4th-Qtr – Stockton 22-footer off high screen-roll with Malone; 90-89 Jazz.
Final Score: Jazz 90, Kings 89.

In the final 2-minutes, the Jazz were perfect offensively going 6-6 for 14 points, with Stockton’s game-winner the capper. After “The Shot” in Houston, this was arguably the second-most memorable basket in Stockton’s illustrious Hall-of-Fame career.

(Note: You can watch the original broadcast of the entire 4th-quarter here)

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Utah’s road victory was also a perfect example to expose the myth that Jerry Sloan always closed out games with his starters. In Game 4 Sloan did not play Jeff Hornacek a single second in the 4th-quarter. Not only was the 36-year old sharp-shooter showing fatigue, he was also struggling against Sacramento’s more athletic wings who were either beating him with quickness (Jon Barry/Vernon Maxwell) or in the post (Tariq Abdul-Wahad). As a result, Sloan closed the game with a crunchtime lineup of: John Stockton, Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson, Bryon Russell, and Karl Malone.

Despite the size discrepancy between Malone/Divac and Rusell/Chris Webber – Utah’s small lineup was effective as the 6-7 Russell fronted the 6-10 Webber in the post and Utah’s four three-point shooters caused Sacramento’s slower frontcourt problems – with Shandon Anderson springing free for two corner-threes before beating the Kings in transition.

In Game 5 two days later, Sloan again had enough of his ineffective centers and – with Utah trailing late in regulation – went back to his small lineup in crunchtime – this time including Hornacek (18 pts) along with Stockton, Anderson, Russell and Malone. Once again, the small lineup created problems as Russell was left alone in the corner for the game-tying three with 48-seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. In the extra session, the Kings couldn’t matchup with Shandon Anderson’s quickness and hard-cutting as the 3rd-year guard again shook loose with 6 of his 16 points in OT.

In Game 2, Sloan had tried to close the game with Ostertag (who had a playoff career-high 16 points in Game 1) and got nothing. He went with Fuller in Game 3 and was burned. After trying Thurl Bailey early in the 4th-Qtr of Game 4 with less than stellar results – he simply went with his 5 best players to close both Games 4 and 5 – and that move (along with their tenacity and grit) won him the series over a talented Kings team that was on the rise to a Western Conference power.

The rivalry remained intense and heated when the teams met in the postseason two years later. Two dramatic victories in Games 1 and 3 boosted Sacramento to a grinding 3-1 series victory as the top-seeded Kings would eventually advance to Game 7 of the conference finals. Their 2002-03 regular season meetings involved the Utah fans showering the referees with water bottles as they left the court following a controversial ending and with Sloan shoving referee Courtney Kirkland to earn a 7-game suspension. Their ensuing 2003 playoff series became most noted as Stockton and Malone’s swan song. The Kings would win the series 4-1, and as Stockton and Malone exited the game together for the final time – the classy Sacramento fans gave the duo a rousing standing ovation.

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In the 9 seasons since, neither team has qualified for the playoffs in the same season with 5 Jazz posteason appearances and 3 by Sacramento. As the players and coaches moved on – the rivalry has faded but for 4 seasons, it was as intense as there was in the Western Conference. It treated us to emotional fireworks, raucous crowds and dramatic finishes – none more memorable than Stockton’s game-winner.

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John Stockton Biography - Assisted - Released Oct-29th

The release John Stockton’s autobiography “Assisted,” to the public on Tuesday, October 29th kick-starts a much anticipated week in Utah Jazzland that concludes with the Jazz tipping off the 2013-14 regular season Wednesday night against the Thunder at Energy Solutions Arena.

Two passionate Jazz writers were able to obtain advanced copies and for some terrific early insight into the book, check out reviews by Moni on Jazzfanatical and Diana on SLC Dunk. (UPDATE 10/29/13: Click HERE for a complete SLC Dunk review).

As someone who has an entire book shelf filled with Utah Jazz media guides, magazines and books (including useless items such as this), I would probably buy a grocery list if it was written by John Stockton. With that said, the early-reviews make me particularly excited for this rare glimpse into the life and career of one of the most unique personalities in NBA history.

Most NBA superstars have had their careers and lives documented and promoted by either themselves or others (Karl Malone for example has been featured in Beyond the Glory and Sportscentury documentaries) in some way, shape or form. For John Stockton, one of the most reserved and private superstars in all of professional sports, this book offers a rare public look into an often private professional career.

As a 6-1 point guard out of Gonzaga (back when very few outside of Washington had even heard of the Zags) who was cut from the 1984 Olympic basketball team and would go on to win two Olympic gold medals, face-off against the greatest player of all time in two NBA Finals, and play 19 NBA seasons in the NBA’s golden era where he became the league’s all-time leader in assists and steals – one can only imagine the collection of Stockton stories on tap.

While it’s highly doubtful Stockton will throw any former teammate under the bus the way many retired celebrities do to generate publicity and sell copies, the book still figures to be a gold mine of insight because Stockton has so often shied away from sharing his thoughts, memories and experiences to the public.

The “Forward” was written by Hall-of-Fame running-mate Karl Malone and co-authored by Kerry Pickett – Stockton’s grade-school coach in Spokane, Washington and apparent confident.

To see a cameo by Kerry Pickett, here is an “NBA on NBC” feature done profiling the off-court life and demeanor of John Stockton – which aired during the 1998-99 Postseason:

While the clip did include interviews with some of John’s closest friends and family from Spokane, in typical Stockton fashion there was no sit-down interview with John himself. As was so often the case throughout his 19-year NBA career, Stockton allowed everyone else to do the talking about him. He won’t be doing that with this book, and that’s precisely why you should buy it.

John Stockton’s “Assisted: An Autobiography” can be purchased here on Amazon.

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John Stockton and Trey Burke

In Monday’s Utah Jazz media day, perhaps the most interesting story told involved Trey Burke’s summer pilgrammage to Spokane, Washington (he was accompanied by Alec Burks) where he personally trained with John Stockton. In the past Stockton had worked with Deron Williams (prior to DWill’s breakout 2006-07 sophomore season) and there’s no doubt the amount of knowledge and experience he can impart to a 20-year old rookie like Burke is invaluable.

One of the items Burke mentioned, was how to react when teams go “under” on the pick&roll. Burke stated that prior to working with Stockton, he was perhaps more prone to take a quick perimeter jumper but Stock taught him to be more patient and utilize the “re-screen.” This is another element of the pick&roll that Stockton&Malone worked to perfection and something you see players like Tony Parker of the Spurs still doing with great effectiveness now.

The real benefit you get from immediately re-screening is you essentially invert the pick&roll (sort of like flipping the direction of a run in football if you see the defense overloading to one side).

For example on side screen-roll instead of screening middle and rolling baseline, you’re screening baseline and rolling middle (or often popping as the weakside defense has more time to collapse and cut off the lane). Not only can you gain depth on the secondary screen, you often catch the defending big in “no man’s land” as he’s sagging off the screener to allow his guard to go under. If it’s side screen-roll, and the guard gets caught high, the screener’s man becomes the focal point and we all know 3/4’s of NBA bigs don’t defend screen-roll well.

Additionally, if the defender goes under the first time, he’ll often go under again so the pull-up jumper will still be there if the big doesn’t step up – but you force the defense to work harder, increase the percentage of getting your team a layup, and still receive an equal or better look at the basket.

This also takes patience and understanding on the screener’s part – to instantaneously recognize what the PG is doing, break off the initial roll and remain stationary long enough to set a legal “re-screen” – but also to know whether to pop or roll the second time around while providing the passer with the window to make that “pocket pass” which Burke mentions.

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Here’s a frame-by-frame example of a classic Stockton&Malone side screen-roll where they’re patient and “re-screen” to get a better shot.

Stockton-Malone Screen-Roll Re-Screen #1

1.) Standard side screen-roll.

Stockton-Malone Screen-Roll Re-Screen #2

2.) Here the defensive strategy is to play it soft and go “under” on Stockton. Stock’s man will meet him on the other side of the pick to cut-off the driving lane while the screener’s man will loosely defend the Malone which negates any immediate roll-action. Defensively, this gives Stock an off-the-dribble three but also prevents any uncomfortable scenario where Stock is penetrating or the bigman is required to move his feet or go out on the perimeter to defend a point guard.

Stockton-Malone Screen-Roll Re-Screen #3

3. Instead Stock opts to “re-screen.” The result is his man gets caught top-side as Malone screens baseline and this puts the onus back on the bigman. If he stays at home on Malone, he gives Stock an open lane for a layup. If he comes out to defend Stock 15-20 feet from the basket he risks Malone rolling to the rim for a dunk. Ultimately he comes out but too slow – and Stock hits a pullup 15-footer in his face. So Stock was patient, passed on an initial three, went for the re-screen which put all pressure back on the bigman to defend – and got a rhythm jumper from 15-feet.

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As you can see here, running the pick&roll to perfection is something John Stockton did it night-in and night-out for 19 seasons. Nobody is expecting Trey Burke to be another John Stockton – but he can take some of the things Stockton did and incorporate them into his own game to help become the best Trey Burke he can be.

Despite the questions lingering after summer league, I believe a first-rate version of Trey Burke is something that will make Jazz fans smile a lot over the next several years. Another thing that should also is the fact that John Stockton is still assisting.

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Gary Payton vs John Stockton - 2000 NBA Playoffs - Game 5

On Sunday when Gary Payton is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, he will be presented by his childhood hero George Gervin and longtime rival John Stockton. Payton chose Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, because he greatly admired and respected him. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, Payton called Stockton “the hardest person I ever had to guard” because of both his demeanor and skillset. Payton gushed about Stockton’s refusal to engage in trash talk, calling it the reason he “really respected him because you never could get in his head…I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech.” He viewed Stockton’s no-nonsense approach as “a complete game. That’s just the way he was and I idolized him.”

Payton entered the NBA in 1990 and would face Stockton in 70 regular season and postseason games prior to Stockton’s retirement in 2003.

Head-to-Head Regular Season Statistics

Regular Season Pts Ast Reb Stl FG% FT% 3pt% Wins
John Stockton 14.0 10.1 2.8 2.1 51% 82% 36% 27
Gary Payton 17.0 6.8 3.8 2.3 49% 77% 33% 22

In their head-to-head matchups, Stockton owns the edge in assists, shooting efficiency, and wins while Payton has the edge in scoring and rebounding.

Head-to-Head Postseason Statistics

Postseason Pts Ast Reb Stl FG% FT% 3pt% Wins
John Stockton 12.0 10.6 2.8 2.1 45% 73% 36% 11
Gary Payton 16.9 5.3 5.0 1.5 47% 70% 40% 10

The Jazz faced the Supersonics four times in the postseason, with both teams winning two series each.
1992 Conference Semifinals: Utah 4-1
1993 First Round: Seattle 3-1
1996 Conference Finals: Seattle 4-3
2000 First Round: Utah 3-2

In their first two playoff series matchups Stockton was clearly the superior player -although Seattle had superior talent in ’93. In ’96, the teams were fairly equal which was indicative in their 7-game series. Payton consistently outplayed Stockton throughout, although Stock played much of the ’96 playoffs with elbow, hamstring and groin injuries that severely hindered his effectiveness.

Their 2000 playoff series featured Gary Payton coming off arguably his best season as a pro (24.2/8.9/6.5) while Stockton was still ticking along (12.1/8.6 – 50%/36%/86%) although clearly past his prime at age 37. Nevertheless, the series still treated basketball fans to an epic point guard dual as the 7th-seeded Sonics pushed the 2nd-seeded Jazz to 5 games (in a best-of-5 series).

Payton opened the series with a 24/11/6 line that was overshadowed (along with Stockton’s 10&10) by Karl Malone’s 50-point eruption. In Game 2, Stockton put up 21 points and 11 assists on a ridiculous 9-11 shooting while playing just 30 minutes. Back in Seattle the Sonics evened up the series behind Payton’s 23/10/7 in Game 3 and then a masterful 35/11/10 in Game 4 that featured plenty of emotional fireworks as well as a heated war of words with Karl Malone.

Back in Utah for the fifth and deciding game, both players rose to the occasion with physical defense and vintage offensive performances. Stockton racked up 17 points, 15 assists, and 7 rebounds on 6-9 shooting while Payton went off for 27 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds on 12-25 shooting. The series ended when an ice-cold Chuck Person (who spent the entire series on the bench) was inserted into the game by Paul Westphal in the final seconds and missed a potential game-tying three off a pick&pop with Payton.

It was difficult to find two point guards who had a bigger contrast in styles to their games. Stockton was a methodical, fundamental pass-first point guard who was an incredibly efficient shooter and the best screen-roll point guard in the league has ever seen. Payton was an in-your-face on-ball defender who could score from all over the court, developed himself into a potent 3pt-shooter, was a sneaky-good rebounder and one of the better post-up point guards in the game. While Stockton never engaged in a war of words, Payton was known for his brash trash-talk.

Despite their differences, the two point guards who own a combined 19 all-star appearances had one simple thing in common: both were fierce competitors who came to win every single night. Even in the twilight of Stockton’s career, the two future hall-of-famers went after it, refusing to take a possession off.

Beyond their incredible talent, perhaps most impressive was both players’ durability. From 1990-2003 Payton and Stockton’s teams would meet 73 times – and in only 3 of those games did either Payton or Stockton sit out due to injury (Payton missed 2, Stock missed 1).

To this day, both players remain two of the most durable players to ever play their position. In his 17 year NBA career, Payton missed just 27 games – with 14 of those coming in 2005-06 (his final season). “The Glove” would notch 10 regular seasons in which he played in every game. Similarly, in his 19 year NBA career Stockton would miss just 22 games (with 18 of those coming in the 1997-98 season) and would play an incredible 17 regular seasons without missing a single game.

What made Gary Payton and John Stockton’s 13-year rivalry so special was the way they competed at both ends of the court. It was competitive, physical, emotional – and best of all it was pure with winning as the only objective. There have been a lot of talented point guards to enter the league since, but there hasn’t been a point guard duel that has exceeded the battles those two had. On Sunday they’ll no longer be competing, but it’ll be refreshing to see them both on center stage again.

John Stockton vs Gary Payton

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Karl Malone - The Ultimate Power Forward

This is Part 6 of “The Ultimate Power Forward” series, detailing several of the key components that made Karl Malone the greatest power forward to ever play the game.

For all of the diverse offensive skills (which have been covered extensively here over the past week) Karl Malone possessed that helped make him the second-leading scorer in NBA history, perhaps no play became as synonymous to the Mailman scoring than the pick-and-roll.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Karl Malone running screen-roll without mentioning his Hall-of-Fame pick&roll partner: John Stockton. Together, Stockton&Malone put on nearly a two decade-long clinic of how to run the pick&roll. Any type of defense they faced within the rules, they would counter and execute. It starts with Stockton, who had supreme court vision, the ability to pass accurately and quickly (thanks to his ability to pass off the dribble with one hand rather than two) and was an excellent shooter off the bounce. Malone always set a rock solid screen and combined his mobility, great hands and supreme ability to finish with both power and skill around the basket – was the ultimate finisher. Together, Stockton&Malone were simply unstoppable on the pick&roll.

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Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #1a

In traditional side-screen roll, Stockton’s first read is always to go middle behind Malone’s screen – whose own read was to roll to the basket if the weakside help doesn’t come, or “pop” out on the baseline for the jumper if the help-defense rotates to shut off the paint.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #1b

Here Malone’s man shows out on Stockton and the weakside help is slow. Malone rolls unimpeded to the rim and skillfully finishes over Kobe who is late in his rotation.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #2a

On this play, the Chicago Bulls force the pick&roll baseline (a defensive staple of Phil Jackson coached teams). Utah counters with Malone simply re-screening to allow Stockton to drive baseline. This forces Malone’s man to help on Stockton and allows Karl to turn and roll uncontested to the rim.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #2b

Chicago’s weakside help defense is slow to react and Malone has a wide-open lane to drive for the hammer dunk.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #2c

Here in the same situation, Chicago’s help-defense reacts to clog the lane. As a result, instead of rolling – Malone simply pulls up from the elbow and drains the open 18-footer.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #3a

Here against Houston, Stockton’s man decides to go under on the screen so Stockton knows he’ll have a clean look from the foul line area if the big doesn’t show out.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #3b

The Rockets choose to stay with the screener (Malone), so Stockton simply pulls up and hits the open foul-line jumper.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #4a

After playing together for 10+ seasons, Stockton&Malone developed a sixth sense for knowing when to slip the screen. Here, they again show their standard side screen-roll.

Stockton-Malone Side Screenroll #4b

Instead of setting the screen, Malone slips right to the rim. Because Stockton could pass so well off-the-bounce, his trademark one-hand pass right by his defender’s ear leads Malone perfectly and the Mailman makes an excellent one-handed catch on the move and promptly finishes strong at the rim for a three-point play.

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As Doug Collins said, “Whatever you show them, they counter it.” In the 90’s most offenses in the NBA were based more on isolation and post-ups than predominantly screen-roll. Now in 2013, with rule changes virtually every successful team relies on running the pick&roll to some degree of success. Guards are taught the nuances of the play at much earlier ages, and come into the league more skilled in that area. Nevertheless, the pick&roll bar set by Stockton&Malone has yet to be eclipsed. They did it longer, better, and more proficiently than any other duo in NBA history. Everyone knew it was coming, and they still couldn’t stop it.

Stockton and Malone PickandRoll #1

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The Shot Filmstrip

16 years ago today, the most glorious 2.8 seconds in Utah Jazz history concluded with Greg Gumble uttering the sweetest words a Jazz fan has ever heard:
John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals!”

John Stockton – The Shot

The celebration didn’t end Thursday night at The Summit. An estimated 20,000 Jazz fans gathered at 3:00AM to welcome the team plane back from Houston and the players joined in the celebration. Chris Morris rode through the crowd on the hood of a car waving a purple Jazz flag and Antoine Carr high-fived fans with tears in his eyes. For the next two weeks, the entire state of Utah was high on basketball and Jazz fans worldwide were high on the Jazz. With the team in the NBA Finals for the first time ever – there was an outbreak of “Jazz Fever” and it was spreading quickly:

Jazz Fever

After 23 seasons filled with a combination of disinterest, failure, hope, perseverance, turmoil and heartbreak – the Jazz had finally broken through to the NBA’s grandest stage. They did so in dramatic fashion with a storybook ending authored by one of the franchise’s two-most beloved players.

Until the day comes when the Jazz finally hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, this will be as good as it gets. And championship or not – this was still pretty good.

The Shot

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