He doesn’t fit the profile. Nothing about John Stockton would make you think “this is the baddest dude out there.” Yet, all his peers will tell you Stockton was one tough player. It wasn’t just physical toughness, and he had that, but it was also his demeanor. It was impossible to get under his skin.
Chris Webber was a young player in Sacramento when they had the Jazz as their matchup. Malone and Stockton always represented physical basketball and Webber decided to match their physicality from the beginning. He told his coach he will lay “Stockton’s ass out” on the first play of the game. Webber believed his team needed it to stop being in awe of the Jazz duo. Here’s what happened next (via The Dan Patrick Show):
I lay him out on a screen. I’m talking ’bout, I lay him out, one of the best screens I ever did. I got my shoulder kinda’ in that head area, kinda’ make it a little dirty. He pops up off the ground, pats me on the butt and says “Nice screen.”
This is the kind of thing that gets you instant respect in the league. No talk, just actions. Stockton, of course, didn’t leave it at that. He just didn’t let you throw him off his game. Webber told Patrick that was very demoralizing and had a profound impact on the team.
To make sure his teammates don’t underestimate Stockon just because he looked like a math teacher and not a basketball player, Webber had an interesting task for all young players on the team.
“We would play him in the playoffs, I’d make rookies wait on the bus and say, watch the baddest man in the world pull-up and they like, ‘what do you mean,’ they think I’m going to talk about his cars and all this and John Stockton would come to the game, literally in a MINIVAN, pop the kids out and come in there and bust us up”
Webber concluded that being unassuming was part of Stockton’s swagger. Never thought I’d use that phrase – John Stockton swagger.