John Stockton recalls his rivalry with Isiah Thomas that lasted for almost a decade in the NBA and how much that meant for his growth as a player and a person even though Thomas was his greatest rival, that didn't stop Stockton from inviting Thomas to induct him into the HOF.
It all started in high-school
When you talk about some of the most significant point guards in NBA history, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas are definitely on that list. They both had tremendous careers, and they had a substantial impact on each other even before they were both in the NBA. Their relationship evolved throughout the years, from being fierce rivals to close friends, culminating with Thomas standing right beside Stockton when introduced into the Hall of Fame.
In a recent interview with Jason Whitlock, Stockton talks about his battles with Thomas throughout the 80s and early 90s before Thomas retired from playing professional basketball. Stockton admits they both probably hated each other during those years since they went head-to-head trying to prove to the world who was the better floor general and leader of their respective teams. Even though they were fierce competitors, there was a lot of respect between them, and Stockton says Thomas changed his life.
"I came across him once in high school at a tournament, and he changed my world. I couldn't believe there could be a basketball player that good, and he literally changed my world. He's been impactful for me, and we probably hated each other when we played each other. That is the beauty of competing, and these were fights, these were wars, and he is one of the guys that I respect the most out of my entire years of playing, and we weren't buddies."
Thomas had a great impact on Stockton
Even though most of their battles were in the NBA, they actually first had the opportunity to play against each other in high school, and Stockton thought Thomas was the best basketball player he ever saw. When he got into the NBA, he studied Thomas and tried to take some parts of his game and implement them into his own playing style since they were both about the same size and played the same position. Stockton always admired Thomas for all the help he gave him later in his career and the advice that proved to be helpful at the right time for him.
"I admired him, and he raised the level for me. As a high-school guy, I watched him through college, and I was amazed and learned by watching him. He was in the league well before me, so I got to watch that. How he competed against me and how he responded after games was always something that I appreciated. When he retired and started coaching, he pulled me aside a couple of times and offered a little pat on the back with suggestions that just couldn't be better timed and more helpful than they were. So when it came to see who would announce me, it was an easy choice for me. There was really no one else that I could think of that impacted my life so many times as him. He is a good friend, continues to be so, and I am grateful for that relationship."
Even though Stockton and Thomas are now friends, their relationship was rocky in 1991, when the original Dream Team was announced. Even though everyone expected Thomas to be on the squad, Stockton was selected as the backup point guard, which caused a lot of frustrations with Thomas, who believed he deserved the spot on that legendary team.
Stockton also revealed how he faced backlash from Thomas and his camp throughout that entire year because of that decision. However, it all changed when Thomas personally called Stockton's dad to tell him he doesn't have anything against his son but was honestly disappointed with how the management of Team USA treated him. From that point, moving forward, he earned lifetime respect from John and his entire family, which sparked his decision, later on, to have Thomas right beside his side when he was getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. This just shows even the fiercest rivals can become friends and openly admit they had a significant impact on each other's lives.