Is John Stockton the Most Underrated NBA Player of All Time?
John Stockton has a widespread NBA history with the Utah Jazz. However, he never won a ring with the team, despite making the playoffs repeatedly. As point guard, Stockton was made for the game. Yet, despite being well-known, his accomplishments still aren’t as well-known as compared to other players.
Stockton’s college career
Stockton considered offers from the Big Sky Conference and decided to play for Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington — his hometown. He followed familial footsteps as his grandfather was a football player for the Bulldogs during the 1920s. During Stockton’s senior year in 1982, he averaged 20.9 points per game with 57% shot from the field, according to Sports Reference.
He also led the West Coast Athletic Conference in steals, scoring, and assists, earning him the title WCAC Player of the Year — the first from his university. He was invited to try out for the 1984 US Olympic team and made it to the top 20, but was released. This gave him the experience needed and gave recruiters the opportunity to see him in action — notably, the Utah Jazz.
Stockton was selected by the Utah Jazz in 1984 in the first round of the draft and was the 16th overall pick. He was relatively unknown, but rose significantly through his Olympics tryouts. However, when it was announced he was selected, thousands of fans were stunned into silence.
He was the starting point guard beginning in the 1987-1988 season and in 1988-1989, he played his first All-Star Game, leading the NBA in assists for the first time for 9 consecutive seasons. In 1991, he dished out a career high (and breaking franchise records) of 28 assists in a single game, leading to a win against the San Antonio Spurs. The same year, he contributed 19 points, 9 steals, and 11 assists in a win against the Houston Rockets.
He was named co-MVP with teammate, Karl Malone, in 1993. In 1994 and 1996, the Utah Jazz reached the Conference Finals, losing to the Houston Rockets in 1994 and Seattle SuperSonics in 1996. In the 1996-1997 season, the Utah Jazz set a franchise record and led the Western Conference with 64 wins, according to NBA Utah Jazz News.
The Utah Jazz reached the Western Conference Finals and, in Game 6, Stockton scored 25 points, had 13 assists, and won against Houston Rockets — a moment known as “The Shot.” In Game 3 in 1997, Stockton had 17 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds in the first win of the finals in the Utah Jazz franchise.
Stockton missed the first 18 games of the 1997-1998 season as a result of a knee injury, but this didn’t stop the Utah Jazz from reaching the NBA Finals. He got a lead ahead of the Chicago Bulls, but it wasn’t enough, and he missed a shot with 5.2 seconds left. However, during Stockton’s career, the Utah Jazz made playoffs every season.
John Stockton highlights
Stockton was a fast player with a long 19 season career. He only played with Utah Jazz and retired with many assist records. Stockton led the league in steals with 3,265 over his career and was the all-time leader at the time of his career. He also played all 82 games in 17 of 19 seasons with a shooting percentage of .515. Many of his former teammates have said that he is irreplaceable. In fact, during Stockton’s career, the Utah Jazz always reached the playoffs and reached the Western Conference finals five times in seven years.
One of the most famous images of Stockton is when he sank a 3-pointer over Charles Barkley in Game 6 in the 1997 Western Conference finals. When asked about not winning a title, he said the sport was about the journey, not the outcome, recognizing the work that the team put in to reach the accomplishments they have.