John Stockton drives to the basket against Philadelphia 76ers, 1996-97. (Don Grayston, Deseret News)
Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Notoriously reticent of publicity, former basketball superstar John Stockton has willingly thrust himself into one of the world’s most hotly debated topic.
Over the weekend, an interview with his hometown newspaper, the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, the all-time Utah Jazz great went public with Gonzaga University’s decision to ban him from attending home basketball games. Stockton is without question the program’s most celebrated player, having starred there from 1980-84 before embarking on a legendary career with the Jazz.
Simply stated, Stockton refuses to adhere to the mask mandate required of all fans at Gonzaga games. The season-ticket holder must don a mask or wait out the policy.
Gonzaga requires proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test four days before attending events. The most famous alum sans a mask won’t fly.
His quotes — which has led to intense media scrutiny — from the newspaper interview along with an anti-vaccination interview he did months ago are splattered all over social media with thousands voicing their opinions on the once-reclusive man. Indeed, these are crazy times in which we live.
To be clear, the point here is not to criticize Stockton for his stance or comments on these issues. Nor is the intent to support him.
Today’s media world is all about boldly stating strong opinions designed to provoke the most emotional responses possible. Stockton’s stance is the lowest hanging fruit, with countless writers and broadcasters ready to pounce on him or offer support.
By now, given the pandemic is coming up on two years, consumers of virtually every form of media already know the opinions of the various personalities. At this point, the divide mostly boils down to political allegiances.
Over time, it can become repetitive and predictable. And in the end, all the verbosity usually doesn’t change any minds.
Rather than debate Stockton’s credibility, let’s go a different angle. It’s downright stunning that he wouldn’t follow form and keep a low profile.
Nearly every local media member can recite a story of Stockton blowing off an interview or autograph request. When he and Jeff Hornacek’s sons played in a youth baseball league, Stockton often watched games in his car while his Jazz teammate served as third-base coach.
Not exactly the warm and fuzzy type.
Don’t believe it? Go back to 1992, when Sports Illustrated did a feature story on three professional athletes in three different sports with Spokane backgrounds.
The story goes, “Three boys, separated by four years and five miles, were raised to greatness in this city of 177,000 residents near the Idaho border. Three boys put Spokane on the map, metaphorically, late in the 20th century, much as the Northern Pacific Railroad did, for real, in the 19th.
The story offered insight on NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, future baseball Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg and Stockton. All the way through, a feel-good piece.
The only hiccup was one of the three famous athletes wouldn’t consent to an interview. Yup, you guessed it.
Undeterred, the magazine sought out quotes from Stockton’s father, Jack, and Jeff Condill, the star’s close friend. Condill went with the obligatory thought that Stockton had to win in everything ranging from Ping-Pong, golf or lawn darts.
“He holds the Jazz record on the treadmill, and he wants to defend that title every year,” Condill said of Stockton, who turned 30 at the time of publication.
The article said: “Still, John Stockton would most likely rather lose in lawn darts than be interviewed. We would have asked him to confirm that, but he was too busy playing Sam-I-am to our green eggs and ham. Talk to us?
“He would not, could not, in the bar (owned by his father). He would not, could not, in his car. He would not, could not, at the gym. We would not, could not, speak to him. Jack, Jeff, his agents at ProServ, the publicity department of the Jazz and the Washington National Guard could not prevail upon him, either.”
Depends on the topic, apparently.