Dan Fitzgerald loves to talk, and he’s very good at it.
Try as he might, even Fitzgerald finds it impossible to convince anyone that he had to use vast quantities of his considerable charm to win the “recruiting war” over John Stockton.
“He visited Idaho, Montana, us and Seattle Pacific,” Fitzgerald recalled recently. “That was who we were up against.”
On Friday, Fitzgerald’s recruiting coup from 1980 was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., alongside the great Michael Jordan.
They joined David Robinson, who played with Jordan and Stockton on the 1992 Dream Team, and coaches Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer in a distinguished class.
“Even for people close to him, it’s such a story, you kinda go, ‘Did it really happen?’” Fitzgerald said.
Stockton has similar thoughts, particularly about his rookie season in the NBA.
“I thought they’d figure me out pretty quickly,” he said Friday. “I thought the Jazz would figure out that they’d made a mistake, so first paycheck I saved every cent.”
Terry Irwin, who coached Stockton in high school at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, said he barely noticed Stockton on Prep’s freshman team.
“He was pretty slight,” Irwin said. “I didn’t know how, physically, he’d be able to withstand what was going on at that level (high school varsity).”
Those looks were deceiving. Stockton became a great high school player, an even greater college player and one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time.
“He had a lot of intangibles that you can’t measure by just looking at somebody,” Irwin said. “One of the greatest he had was his head and his ability to be level-headed all the time.”
Stockton missed just 22 games during his 19-year NBA career, all spent with Utah. He averaged 13.1 points, 10.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game as a 10-time all-star and won two Olympic gold medals. Six years after he retired at age 41, Stockton still has far more assists and steals than anyone else in NBA history.
His work ethic is legendary.
“He’s second to none as far as wanting to win,” Sloan said.
Sloan should know. After all, Sloan coached Stockton for 15 years with the Jazz, and joined his former point guard in basketball immortality Friday.
“I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for him,” Sloan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.