Monday, June 9, 2003

Stockton says goodbye to all that's Jazz

NBA notes

Enquirer news services

SALT LAKE CITY - It was practically torture for John Stockton, sitting there through more than an hour of accolades and standing ovations.

Almost reluctantly, Stockton sat through it all in an 90-minute retirement celebration that nearly filled the Delta Center and drew more than a few tears.

"Now that it's over, it's great. It was kind of like a hard workout," Stockton said.

Stockton, known throughout his 19-year career for his modesty, admitted he would have much rather gone off into retirement quietly, but Jazz owner Larry Miller and Stockton's wife, Nada, talked him in to agreeing to the emotional event.

The celebration drew former teammates and NBA commissioner David Stern, who took a detour on his way to New Jersey for the NBA Finals to give Stockton a proper sendoff, even if he didn't want it.

"I try to block it out most things," Stockton said. "It's emotional and I don't really like to go there a lot. All those people there, I try not to pay a lot of attention."

Stockton announced two days after the season ended that he was through playing, but could not bring himself to say he was retiring. The word retirement didn't surface again Saturday, but the NBA career leader in steals and assists said he was quite certain he was sticking with his decision.

"You don't know the agony it took to get to that point. Once I reached that point, I was sure, even if it didn't come out very well," he said. "As much fun as this ended up being, I don't think I want to do this again."

Stockton, who cut his retirement announcement last month short when his emotions started to overwhelm him, had tears in his eyes before he even hit the court and he wasn't alone.

Coach Jerry Sloan, known for being gruff and not exactly warm, struggled to fight off tears during a short speech, as did longtime teammate Karl Malone.

"I hope and I pray people here realize a couple things. There will absolutely, positively will never ever be another John Stockton. Ever," Malone said as the crowd rose to its feet for one of several standing ovations. "He gave me more than I gave him. I want to say this. On behalf of my family to your family. We love you and I'm going to miss you."

Malone, who was still wiping away tears in a news conference afterward, said he had not decided on whether he will return to the Jazz next season or leave as a free agent. Malone said it was Stockton's night and he didn't feel it was right to talk about his future.

"I'm not really thinking about anything else right now," said Malone, who is the second-leading scorer in NBA history due largely to Stockton's passing precision.

The Jazz called the sendoff Stockton's second-to-last official appearance at the Delta Center. The next will be to hang Stockton's No. 12 from the rafters of an arena that already has two banners commemorating Stockton's status as the career leader in assists (15,086) and steals (3,265) in his 1,504 games.

"You laced them up 1,504 times and you laid it all out there 1,504 times," Miller said. "This is a day that we always knew would come but always hoped wouldn't."

The ceremony itself ran about a half hour long and ended with Stockton showing a lighter side rarely seen by Jazz fans. Stockton reminisced about holding out as a rookie for an extra $5,000 before signing and even poked fun at his trademark shorts that remained shorter than anyone else's in the league until the very end.

"I haven't changed a thing. I haven't even changed the length of my shorts," he quipped.

TV RATINGS: ABC's ratings for the NBA Finals are down significantly from last year's.

Game 1 between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets on Wednesday drew a 6.4 national rating with a 11 share. That's down 40 percent from last year's first game between the Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers, which produced a 10.6 national rating with a 20 share.

Game 2 on Friday had an overnight rating of 7.3 with a 13 share, down 29 percent from the 10.3 overnight rating and 18 share for last year's Game 2.

MAURICE CHEEKS: The former Sixers' all-star would like to end his two-year stay in Portland, and succeed Larry Brown as Sixers head coach. So far, the Blazers have not been very accommodating. But the Sixers haven't given up. For one thing, the former all-star point guard is negotiating to join sports agent Lonnie Cooper's stable of stars. Cheeks is looking for a resolution, either in the form of an extension from the Blazers or an opportunity to land with the Sixers.

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