A look at the opponent, a smile as a choirboy, which exposes
his white teeth, and a twinkle in his eye. Meanwhile his mind is working over-time.
His eyes shift from left to right. He looks like a nice young man, someone who
was a sweet little boy once and plays in the NBA now. Looks are misleading.
He knows that as he is looking left just before he is going to make a move to
the right. His defender doesn't even look at his eyes. He is looking at the
shot clock ticking away. 14-13-12-11-10. He knows he is going to make his move
and starts looking at him with one eye but keeps the other on the shot clock.
And still he knows where everyone is. He knows the time, he knows where everyone
is positioned and tries to read the play based on that information. He doesn't
smile until the end of the game but then the man really changes. Then a warm
smile like the smile of a family man will appear on his face, with him it's
not deceiving. He's not smiling now though, not now. His opponent starts his
move. To the left, then quickly to the right to take it to the basket. The lay-up
is good, performed exceptionally well. The ball already is back in the hands
of the other guy, the family man, who lets his teammates know which play they
are going to run. But with the game clock on less than a minute everybody knows
what is going to happen. Three guys on one side, the other two on the other
side. He is one of the two. There comes the other one, sets the screen and rolls
to the basket. One of the defenders on the other side knew that was going to
happen and switches from man to stop him from going to the basket. The family
man already knows it and passes it to the open man on the other side of the
floor who is just behind the three-point line. The shot is good and someone
chalks a little vertical stripe behind the category assists. The time-out is
taken and one goes back with a big smile on his face while the other takes a
last look at the game clock, as he usually does.
If you don't count Magic as a small point guard, simply because of the fact he wasn't small, those two players are the top candidate as the best small guard, small point guard, in the history of the NBA. Isiah Thomas and John Stockton are arguably the best pure point guards in the history of the NBA, with pure point guards meaning they played nothing but the point, or at least nothing but the guard, spot. Two different guys with two different styles of play. Stockton is the passer, the man of the accurate passes and the dull but effective mid-range shots. Thomas is the entertainer. The man who goes to the basket and who doesn't just drives to the basket and doesn't just passes the ball, but does it in a crowd-pleasing way. The fighter, the "bad boy", the fan favourite against the businessman who loves his job. Always good for a crowd entertaining match-up. On and off the court.
The debate is never ending. Some people say that Thomas deserves the title of the best pure point guard more. He fought for every ball, sometimes literally, and never stopped. He was a great clutch player, a great scorer, a great shooter and a great passer. And a great leader, proven by the two championships he led his Pistons to. A team called "the bad boys". Not completely surprising as he led a team with Laimbeer, Rodman, Dumars, Dantley, Aguirre (who became a Piston in exchange for Dantley), Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson and several others. Others say that John Stockton is better. The guy is the NBA all-time leader in assists and steals and led his team to two NBA finals, which they both lost to the Bulls. He has lead the NBA in assists for nine consecutive years, he has dished out the most assists in a single year and he averaged a stunning 14.5 apg in the 89/90 season. He was a team leader and has shot better than 50% from the field in 12 seasons and connected on an average of 52% of his shots throughout his career. Not to mention that he is ready to play in the NBA for the nineteenth year and only missed 22 games in 18 years. But, Thomas fans will say, he has zero championships while Thomas has two. Stockton has the statistics to make him a prime candidate and Thomas has the prizes.
These guys are as different as night and day. Stockton grew up in the lovely city of Spokane, Washington. He went to Gonzaga University, which is in Spokane, while his dad owns a tavern only several blocks away. On the court he isn't exactly a gentleman but never went too far. Yes he sets picks like you have never seen before, the elbows are pointing out, but he wasn't a fighter. As said, he is a family man who loves the game and loves to compete. He grew up in Spokane, bought a house in Spokane and still lives in Spokane because he thinks that his children should have the same wonderful youth he had. He grew up in a warm environment and never changes a thing. He doesn't change his hair, his clothes, his house and all that surrounds it. Because Stockton knows that this way has been a successful way of living, full of love.
Thomas on the other hand grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Chicago where his mother tried to keep him and his brothers and sisters alive. There was little money and there was no room in the house. It was small and crowded but his mother did the best job possible and there was a whole lot of love. What else do you expect from a house with a mother and nine children? Some of them went the wrong way on the path of life despite the mother of Isiah, Marie, fighting to let them walk the right way. But Isiah also learned from his brothers. "They told me about the mistakes they had made so I wouldn't have to make them," Thomas said. Thomas went to Indiana University and played for coach Bobby Knight. He left college after his sophomore season, and the NCAA title and many awards, despite the advice of Knight, who told him it was better to stay. Despite ignoring the advice of a great coach he had a great NBA career and a great life after that.
Maybe their youth is one of the reasons that they are so different, on and off the court. Thomas is a dangerous guy on the court, not afraid of anything, and he is outspoken off the court. He did everything to win. "He'd cut your heart out to win. And he would put it right there on the floor in front of you, and he'd step on it. That's Isiah," Pat Riley once said. Nevertheless he joked around a lot and he smiled a lot with that great smile he had. Stockton isn't afraid of anything as well but doesn't have that attitude on the court that Thomas had and what NBA players feared. Stockton rather avoids the media instead of talking to it but also loves to make jokes, but just not to the media.
Two totally different guys playing exactly the same spot and fighting for the same title, that of the best pure point guard in NBA history. Thomas has the prices (NCAA championship, 2 NBA titles, Finals MVP) while Stockton has the statistics (NBA All-Time leader in assists and steals, NBA leader in assists per game for nine consecutive times, which is a record, averaged 14.5 apg one season, also a record). Both were born team leaders and both made the players around them better. When you put all the facts next to each other you will still not know who the best is. It depends on what you think is more important. Some find individual statistics more important while some find all the prices, also the ones won by the team he played for, more important. Stockton has averaged more assists per game and shot at a higher percentage from the field. Thomas scored more points. Stockton has more steals, Thomas more rebounds. Stockton has more records, Thomas more prices. They are so balanced and you can't really say that one is better than the other because they are so close to each other in terms of quality, which makes this discussion pointless and impossible to win.
And maybe it is all for the best. Maybe it is for the best that these two players are the best at that position. Thomas and Stockton are the guys that are the best and boys and girls from all around the world who want to play basketball only have to look at the two best players of that position to see that everyone can make it. A boy who walks around the streets, plays some basketball on the street courts, and comes home to a house, which is in bad condition. There's not much money and around him he sees his brothers coming back, bleeding, after a day of insecurity. Insecurity about whether he would be back or not. He only has to look at Isiah Thomas to see that he can make something out of life, if he just works hard. But someone who can also make it is the exact opposite. He might be white, small and not hardened by the life on the street. He might not look like someone who can bring the ball up court with speed, who can make the decisive shot and maybe he is too small and skinny. But, if he works hard, he can prove everyone wrong who said he couldn't do it. "He's got a deep-down burning desire not to fail. . He might not say that," teammate Karl Malone said about Stockton. "But he wants to succeed, and he gets a kick out of proving people wrong." Stockton and Thomas send a message to the world, to all the kids. No matter who you are and no matter where you come from, if you work hard, you will make it. Because these two guys have worked hard all their lives and continue to work hard. Thomas on the sideline coaching and thinking out strategies and Stockton still works hard on the basketball court. Everybody can make it if they work hard and these two guys are sending that message. So don't start a whole discussion on who is the best pure point guard, Thomas or Stockton, because you don't need to. And you can't. Because two different people with two different youths, styles of play, approach to the media and lives have showed the world anything is possible for everyone. It doesn't matter who you are and where you are from and what you look like because if you work hard and love the thing you do, then you will make it. And when you think you can't, just look at these two guys. They defied the odds and became successful because they worked hard and because they loved the thing they did. That's the message they send to the world and let that message be a lesson to us all.
written by SJS , taken from InsideHoops.com 12.August.2002
SJS, founder and sole writer of the Utah Jazz fan site www.geocities.com/sc_utahjazz