Friday, 28 August 2015

Assisted (by John Stockton with Kerry L. Pickett)

What a beautiful book! If you like John Stockton as a basketball player then you must read it. My rating: 10/10

This book is a real autobiography, meaning that basketball is only one of many things John Stockton writes about. Of course his basketball career is always in the background, but he tries (successfully) to explain what other people and what other things helped him become the person he is. In turn it explains what made him such a great NBA player, but from this book you will NOT learn what a great player he was. There are only hints of his greatness, for example his Dream Team selection.

Stockton starts with his Hall of Fame induction, but it is clear that he doesn't want to brag about it. This first chapter is just an explanation what made him write his autobiography. To sum it up: during his Hall of Fame induction speech he was not able to even mention many people who deserved to be mentioned and Stockton felt bad about it. That's why the rest of the book is filled with names of all the people who were important to him throughout his life, on and off the court.

There are no basketball stats in the book. And there is no detailed description of his NBA career. There are only flashes of his memories, but they are both fun and insightful. Stockton describes some little know facts from his life, but he also gives his honest comments on some of our world's aspects. He isn't afraid to write even about a few things that are not quite “politically correct”. And he gets his point very well.

I must say that I have imagined young Stockton a little differently. From this book I have learned that he did some really stupid things, just like any one of us. And he was very lucky to get away unhurt. Well, maybe not quite unhurt – he had a silver tooth when he was young because he had lost the real one in a bike-jumping accident.

Stockton describes some memorable moments of his career, but he picks them the way he likes. Some of them are totally inconsequential for the reader, but important to Stockton. On the other hand he is very modest and writes about some things in a by-the-way kind of way. Not to brag, but to simply state a fact. Stockton omitted some of his personal achievements altogether – he doesn't even mention that he was named the 1993 All Star Game MVP (together with Karl Malone) or that he was the leader of the NBA in assists for so many years.

There are numerous black and white pictures throughout the book, but there are also 14 pages (right in the middle of the book) of a fine paper (clearly better than the rest) featuring many great-looking colour pictures. A very nice addition.

When I was reading this book I thought: “Oh man, what a great story! I have quote it. And this one, too. And this. And this. Damn it! I would have to quote half of the book! Wait… Would that be legal?” The main problem with quoting Stockton is the fact that he tells his stories in a very thoughtful way and it is impossible to quote a part of them without altering (losing) their meaning. Below there are some quotes to give you only a hint what the book is like.

    With my whole world seemingly at my side and the rest of the world tuning in, I listened to a brilliant acceptance speech by David Robinson. Friendly, confident, and seemingly completely at ease, he delivered a heartfelt and genuine oration without the aid of notes or a teleprompter. I was so impressed with David that I began to think of twenty ways I should change my own remarks. Sensing my distress, Nada tapped me on the hand, smiled, and whispered, “Yours is good. Just go ahead with it.” She helped me more with those few words than she will ever know.

    Mom and Dad were great at finding individual time for all of us kids but it was often in the flow of their workday. I think that is something that is missing in our modern culture: kids working with their parents. It was both enriching and fun, and provided time for some pretty good talks.

    I knew I had to tell Dad about this collision. I worried about it for hours. When he saw the damage, he managed a signature head scratch before asking if anyone was hurt. “No,” I replied. “Were you horsing around?” he asked. “No”, I echoed (not this time, anyway). “Well, the car is only a tool. Take it and get an estimate tomorrow,” he replied. I was surprised at his soothing and thoughtful response but shouldn't have been. Dad was at his best when things went badly. Even today, at eighty-four, he rallies when we need him the most.
    My relief was erased a month later when Mom and Dad informed me that due to the ticket and the accident I would have to pay for my own insurance. The premiums would reflect my recent driving record. I was going to have to mow a lot more lawns and shovel a lot more snow if I wanted mobility. My lack of protest might have surprised my folks. I think they expected some negotiation at least.

    Coach [Dan Fitzgerald] even talked when he drove. Everyone buckled up in his car, and it had nothing to do with the law. While driving, he would spend more time looking and gesturing to the backseat while delivering one of his gems than he did watching the road. I think Coach drove by Braille, listening for honks and relying on the rumble strips on the road's edge to stay in his lane.

    My contract was guaranteed for two years, but I felt certain it would be only a one-year hitch. I didn't doubt my own ability at that point but was convinced the Jazz would soon realize their mistake and send me packing. Everything was based from that point forward on that notion. I would save money and live sparsely so I had something to show from the whole experience. It was a mind-set that worked for me. I would practice and play as if there were no tomorrow. In this hunkered-down mentality, I was oddly comfortable and relaxed about the challenge. The way I saw it, I really had nothing to lose.

    Over the years I watched how Larry [Miller] treated his employees. He made it his business to know a little about each of his numerous workers. Getting to know them by more than their name was a priority. Striking up conversations with all employees within the organization without regard to their station was part of his method of operation. He made saying thank you a trademark. Larry treated people well even after he succeeded. I used to joke with him when he would take me out driving in his Shelby Cobra on mountain roads or at his race track: “It's good to be the king!” The beauty of Larry was that he shared the blessings he had with others. He was a good king.

    (…) Most of the comments I remember from Coach [Frank] Layden had more to do with how to be a good person than how to become a good basketball player, although the two roles often ran together. I frequently recall his sage advice to me at our first meeting: “Don't change who you are now that you've arrived.”

    Coach [Frank Layden] was hysterically funny yet serious about his work. He told jokes often as a method of making larger point about a game or life. He frequently spoke in public with a distinctive style. People would roll in the aisles at his self-deprecating deliveries such as “I have to hurry; they feed me every fifteen minutes,” a reference to his ample girth. Coach also had a special ability to use humor to relieve tension. One time when we were watching film from a previous game, the camera zoomed in on Coach's popped shirt button, which had exposed his belly. Because we were coming off a couple of losses, the tension in the room was palpable. Nobody wanted to show a reaction of any kind. From the back of the room, Frank bellowed, “I need a sign that says, 'Space available.'” We all busted our seams laughing. By the way we won the game that night.

(Monday, 6 April 2015)

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