Saturday, September 26, 2009

Senator Orrin Hatch -- basketball fan

In case you missed it --

On Sepember 14, 2009, Senator Orrin Hatch gave a speech on the Senate Floor about the Utah Jazz Hall of Famers -- Jerry Sloan and John Stockton.  It wasn't just a little footnote in the Senate record.  He had a lot to say about them:

"Mr. President, I rise today to speak about a matter of great prominence to the people of my state. This past Friday, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Jerry Sloan and John Stockton were inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This is a well-deserved honor and I wanted to take a few moments to congratulate them both.

"As any fan of professional basketball can tell you, the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City is widely considered one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to play. Now, some have tried to blame this on the city's high elevation, but, if you've ever been to a game there, you know very well that it's because of the Jazz fans.

"You see, due to its relatively small population, Utah has only one major sports franchise - the Jazz. And, there were times when people thought that this small market would not be able to sustain even a single NBA team. But, for more than two decades, the Jazz have enjoyed one of the most loyal and supportive fan bases of any team in professional sports. This is due in no small part to the careers of both John Stockton and Jerry Sloan.

"John Stockton grew up in Spokane, Washington and played basketball at both Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University in his hometown. He was a relative unknown when he moved into the professional ranks, picked by the Jazz in the middle of the first round of the 1984 draft and initially relegated to a reserve role on the team. But, after three seasons, he became the full-time starter at the point guard position and went on to have one of the most prolific careers in basketball history.

"Over the course of his career, he accumulated numerous honors. He was selected to play in the NBA All Star game ten times. He played on the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams - the first two Olympic squads to include professional players - winning gold medals in both years. He was selected to the All-NBA First Team twice, the All-NBA Second Team six times, the All-NBA Third Team three times, and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team five times. In 1996, the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary by selecting the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Of course, John Stockton was honored on this list as well.

"Though the accomplishment of winning an NBA championship eluded him, Stockton did lead the Jazz to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. John Stockton was immortalized in the first of those seasons when, in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, he scored the last 9 points for the Jazz, including a last-second three pointer to send the Jazz to the Finals for the first time. This was probably the most memorable moment of Stockton's career and the history of the Jazz franchise and it is still replayed in montages of great sports moments.

"It's impossible to talk about John Stockton without mentioning Karl Malone. Together, these two formed one of the game's legendary 1-2 punches. Together, they became the league's models of consistency, commitment, and success. The two played 18 seasons and an NBA record 1,412 regular-season games together as teammates. Due to their collaborative efforts, Malone finished his career as the second-highest scorer in NBA history and Stockton holds the all-time career assist record.

"Let's talk about that assist record for a moment. In the 63-year history of the NBA, only four players have career assist totals of over 10,000. Stockton finished his career with 15,806 assists. Mark Jackson, number two on the list, collected 10,334 assists - 5,483 fewer than Stockton.

"But, the raw numbers don't do this record justice, Mr. President. To put it in perspective, only 37 players have dished out 5,483 or moreassists in their entire careers. Indeed, just getting that many assists over a whole career would put you in pretty elite company - and that's the difference between John Stockton's total and that of the guy who's next in line.

"This record is among the truly unbreakable records in all of sports - and it isn't the only one held by John Stockton. He also holds the career record in steals, also by a considerable margin. He holds the NBA record for the most seasons and consecutive games played with one team, and is third in total games played.

"John Stockton's success on the floor was matched only by his consistency. He missed only 22 games during his career, 18 of them came in one season. In 17 of his 19 seasons in the NBA, he played in every single game. Overall, he played in 1,504 of 1,526 possible games. These are Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken-type numbers.

"Stockton will always be remembered for his no-nonsense approach to the game, his hard-nosed defense, his matchless work ethic, and his quiet, unassuming personality. His unflashy, fundamentally-sound style of play earned him the respect of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, who once said that John Stockton was the only NBA player he'd pay money to see.

"Stockton retired in 2003 and returned home to Spokane. While other NBA greats have sought careers in broadcasting and coaching after their careers were over, so far, John has been content to stay at home with his family. This comes as no surprise to those who know him.

"Guiding John through most of his NBA career, was coach Jerry Sloan, who, once again, is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sloan's careers as both a player and a coach have been characterized by his unyielding toughness and an unmatched drive to compete.

"Jerry was born and raised in McLeansboro, Illinois and played his college career at the University of Evansville. He played one season in the NBA for the Baltimore Bullets before being selected by the Chicago Bulls in the expansion draft. In fact, he was the team's first player, earning him the nickname "The Original Bull." Sloan quickly became known for his tenacity on defense and he led the expansion team to the playoffs in its first season.

"He had an exceptional career as a player. He played in two All-Star Games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team four times and the All-Defensive Second team twice. He also led the Bulls to the playoffs on various occasions and helped them to win the franchise's only division title prior to the Michael Jordan era. After his playing career was cut short by knee injuries, the Bulls retired Sloan's No. 4 jersey, the first jersey retirement in the team's history.

"Immediately after his retirement, he became part of the Bull's coaching staff, starting out as a scout, eventually working his way up to head coach, a position he held for three seasons. A few years later, he joined the Jazz coaching staff as an assistant to another Utah sports icon, Frank Layden. In 1988, when Layden's health forced him to retire, Jerry was named head coach of the Jazz, a position he has held ever since.

"Coach Sloan just finished his 20th season as coach of the Jazz, a milestone that, in today's sports world, is almost unthinkable. Over the course of his Jazz tenure, literally hundreds of coaching changes have taken place throughout the NBA. In a league that has had a number of great coaches in its history, none have coached for the same team as long as Jerry Sloan.

"This extends to other sports as well. Currently, Sloan is the longest-tenured coach in any major professional sport.

"There are a number of reasons to explain his longevity. The most obvious is that he's been successful. He's currently fourth on the list for all-time coaching wins - though he holds the record for most wins with one team. In 17 out of the 20 seasons his been in Utah, the Jazz have been in the playoffs, the only absences coming in transitional years after the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone.

"Another reason Sloan has been able to stick around is his consistent, no-nonsense approach to the game. Over time, teams have changed strategies to become flashier in order to cater to younger fans and the new era of players, many of whom have been self-centered prima donnas. Throughout that time, Coach Sloan has been a model of consistency, placing premiums on discipline and hard work among his players. The result has been a franchise that, for over two decades, has competed at a high level.

"In many ways, Stockton and Sloan were alike and their strengths complimented each other. Neither one will claim to have been able to be successful without the other.

"Currently, there is a huge statue of John Stockton in front of the Energy Solutions arena alongside a statute of Karl Malone. Chances are, in 20 or 30 years when Jerry Sloan finally decides to hang it up, they'll want to build a monument to him as well. Neither of these gentlemen would actively seek such limelight, but few are as deserving.

"Once again, I'd like to extend my congratulations to both John Stockton and Jerry Sloan for this great honor and to thank them for their contributions to the Utah community."

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