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Monson: Stockton statue just too much
Monson: Stockton statue just too much
By Gordon Monson
Jazz owner Larry Miller unveiled a statue of John Stockton on Wednesday at the Delta Center. (Ryan Galbraith/The Salt Lake Tribune)
John Stockton is the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals, and, now, he's on the brink of breaking the league record for post-career tributes.
Question is, when does so much acknowledgment turn into overkill?
At what juncture does appropriate appreciation become misplaced adoration?
In all of the hubbub and hero worship, can a legend be transformed into a cartoon?
The questions probably have less to do with Stockton and more to do with either the human condition of the rank and file, or a franchise eager to bolster a tradition as a means of weathering a lean here and now.
After the masterful point guard announced his retirement directly following the 2002-03 season, the Jazz paid homage to him by lifting a nearly full-house toast at the Delta Center that included highlights, speeches, tears, honors, praise, and exaltation. They even named a street after him. It was a breathy and breathtaking mix of recognition, glorification, and celebration of a stupendous career in basketball.
Then, came the hanging of the jersey in the rafters and the retiring of the number. No future Jazz player would wear 12 on his chest or back because, well, it had already been spoken for and pretty much used to its full measure.
Next, on Wednesday, before an otherwise meaningless game between the Jazz and the Denver Nuggets, Larry Miller unveiled an 8-foot, 800-pound statue of Stockton on the Delta Center's southeast plaza. The bronze features incredible detail of the man/the player handling the ball just the way everyone remembers him doing. In the near future, Karl Malone's oversized likeness will be erected alongside, dunking a ball just like he used to, too.
And Stockton to Malone will be immortalized not by joint ownership in a car dealership, but by the sculptor's hand.
The ancient Greeks did it with some of their Olympians, the Bulls did it for Michael Jordan, the Lakers did it with Magic.
At the unveiling, Miller reminded Stockton, who was in attendance with his family, that, as the owner put it, "We love you." An appreciative Stockton, in turn, joked that the statue's biceps were too small.
Everybody laughed. But, if you looked closely, you could read it in the former point guard's eyes, just like you can read it in the rendering's eyes, that all of the hullabaloo was and is more than slightly overblown.
Stockton never came out and said it, but so much fuss, so much excess over a career spent playing a boy's game, running up and down a court essentially in his underwear, dribbling and passing and shooting a ball, seemed a bit ridiculous.
He was, after all, a basketball player, not a war hero.
He didn't defeat the Nazis. He beat, on a good day, the Houston Rockets.
Despite the fact that Stockton long since had acclimated himself to the privileges and the financial spoils of a long and remarkably successful tenure in the NBA, the bronzing of his image he couldn't quite reconcile.
And he's right.
He's not a demigod.
He finds no comfortable place in a modernized Sanctuary of Zeus.
Stockton never really understood the reactions of fans, and others, who were so fascinated by what he did, who lifted him so far up on a pedestal, all on account of his deft handling of a Spalding. At times, I swear, he wanted to scream out to the rest of the world: "Get a life!" or "Get off of my cloud!"
As much as he admired great players who had gone before, he would neither figuratively nor literally hoist a graven image of them. And he didn't warm much to having one hoisted of him.
"It's not so much a likeness of me as it is an embodiment of what this organization is all about," Stockton said during Wednesday's ceremony.
Miller, the head of that organization, paid $600,000 for the two statues. He has been eager not only to honor Stockton and Malone, but to prop up Jazz tradition, which in the past has been more than generously comprehensive in retiring the jerseys of players such as Darrell Griffith, Jeff Hornacek, and Mark Eaton.
Call it immortalization in a hurry.
Now, Miller is building statues.
Whether Stockton and Malone - or any athlete, for that matter - deserve to have giant bronzes erected in their honor is a compelling discussion worth having. They were great players. But a dissenting vote does not, in and of itself, constitute disrespect. It only connotes that society's current thirst for hero worship is a tad too parched and vast.
I once read the words of a noted psychologist who said, "Heroes throughout history have held the fantasy and imagination, the great aspiration, of the common man. They are larger-than-life figures that psychologically represent the highest example of what we can be."
On the other hand, is a basketball player truly a hero? When I worked for the Los Angeles Times, writers were not permitted to characterize or refer to athletes as such, unless they pulled someone from a burning building or performed an actual act of heroism, removed from achievements in the arena.
Does commissioning or framing or forming a statue infer and confer that same heroic status?
If it does, count one more respectful vote among the dissenters.
May the odds be ever in your favor.