Forever young
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Let's not forget ...

John Stockton
John Stockton's been playing NBA point guard at a high level for 18 years.
John Stockton is 40 years old, and he's playing point guard in the NBA playoffs.

I'm going to say it again: He's 40, and he's playing the point in the playoffs. Wrap your mind around that for a minute.

We're not talking a Robert Parish clog-up-the-middle 40, or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar farewell 40. We're not talking a Sam Perkins sniping-from-the-perimeter 40, either.

We're talking a run-the-ship, mix-it-up, the-team-couldn't-live-without-him 40. We're talking the most relevant, productive, dominant 40-year-old in NBA history.

Never mind the NBA, Stockton's probably the greatest 40-plus professional athlete of all-time. Better than Blanda, better than Nolan Ryan, even better than Rickey Henderson (I'm sorry, I love Rickey, you love Rickey, Rickey loves Rickey, and Rickey's still great, but Stockton's even better).

Ask Mike Bibby how good Stockton is ... Mike Bibby who, by the way, was 6 when Stockton was drafted by the Jazz in 1984.

1984. Damn, that's another thing. Stockton's been playing, and playing at an unusually high level, for 18 years. Get that now ... 18 years. Teachers, doctors and lawyers work 18-year stints; UPS drivers and insurance salesmen work 18-year stints; point guards do not work 18-year stints.

But Stockton has, and in that time, he's averaged -- averaged -- 10.7 assists per game. Andre Miller led the league in assists this year at 10.9. JKidd handed out 9.9 per. Stockton clocks in at 10-plus over 18. That's crazy, off-the-charts consistency. Check that ... consistency's not a strong enough word ... what he's done, for as long as he's done it, you've got to call it legendary.

What's more, as good as Stockton's been over the long haul, with NBA-record career assist and steal totals (15,177 and 3,128) that boggle the mind, he might actually be putting up the most impressive numbers of his career right now. In 2001-'02, he was fifth in the league in assists (8.2), sixth in field goal percentage (.517), and 10th in steals (1.85) this year. Did I mention he is 40?

He's going against guys half his age -- the quickest, jumpingest, most devastating ballers in the world -- and he's blowing by them, beating them to the spot and picking their pockets on a regular basis. He's almost as good now as he's ever been, and he was among the best players in the league this year.

Let's not forget that.

Let's remember the numbers, let's respect the numbers, let's hold the numbers in awe.

But it's more than numbers. Numbers are crude.

Let's not forget ...

He pushes the ball at exactly the same moment the other guy is catching his breath.

He puts simple, clean passes in his shooters' hands.

He wraps the ball around bigger guys' bodies.

He takes charges. And he never gets hurt -- though sometimes the other guy does.

Let's not forget ...

He pulls and grabs and scrapes to get from point A to point B, and to keep his man from doing the same.

He keeps his shoulders square.

He throws skip passes.

He dribbles low and fast.

He anticipates.

He forces guys to their off hands.

He stops at the free throw line and hits his teammates filling the lane.

He makes his free throws.

John Stockton
Stockton's still going, even against guys nearly half his age.
Let's not forget ...

He throws balls into gaps that aren't there ... yet. In other words, he sees the whole floor. And more.

He makes two-handed chest passes, one-handed push passes, baseball, underhand, behind-the-back, over-the-shoulder and every other kind of pass you can think of.

He hits open 3s.

He hits 3s late ... with guys in his face.

He runs the high-screen roll all right, too.

And he's been known to take the ball through a crowded lane.

He wants the ball. He has the ball. He gives the ball up when he ought to.

Let's not forget ...

It's the little things with Stockton, little things done economically and efficiently, and sometimes brilliantly. Over and over again.

I can't think of a particular defining Stockton moment or play. There's no single shot in my mind's eye the way there is with most other great players. The story of his game is told in thousands of little increments and small gestures that make up a routine. It's a steady, relentless record of accomplishment.

As a result, more than any player I know of, his game seems like it's a function of his will, like it's a natural extension of some spirit or soul in him that insists on keeping on.

It's hard to see that in any one game, of course, but when you watch him during Games 3 and 4 this weekend, it would be best not to forget that it's there.

Eric Neel is a former managing editor of Sportsjones. You can e-mail him at



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