With the Utah Jazz competing in the NBA Playoffs this week, we thought it might be fun to share what Jazz basketball legend John Stockton had to say about Mormons.
Because of its high density of Latter-day Saints, Utah is a place unlike any other. People who have grown up elsewhere can visit our Church's mountain home and feel as though they've entered another world. This was certainly the case for John Stockton, who, in 1984, was drafted to play basketball for the Utah Jazz.
Stockton, fresh out of Gonzaga University in Washington, had yet to make much of a name for himself in the sports world. But by the time his 20 years in Salt Lake City were over and he raised his jersey into the rafters of the Delta Center, now the Vivint SmartHome Arena, he was a legend.
The NBA's all-time leader in both assists and steals, Stockton was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 (his first year of eligibility). He led the Jazz to two NBA Finals appearances, and the team never missed the playoffs with him in the starting lineup.
Unlike many professional athletes, Stockton's priorities are quite conservative. He's a devout Catholic and a family man. But what was it like for him living in the land of Mormons? He touches on his experiences in his autobiography, Assisted:
"I can't conceive a better situation than the one that actually unfolded for me in Utah," he said. "The opportunity began with the city and its people. Salt Lake City, nestled against the Wasatch Mountains, is clean, safe, and beautiful." Stockton called the city's environment "extraordinary," saying that he and his family enjoyed "the abundance of healthy activities that Utah had to offer."
"Largely thought of as the 'Mormon State,' Utah didn't fit some commonly held stereotypes," he said. "For one, the notion that Salt Lake City is overwhelmingly Mormon is simply false. Actually, the city is somewhat diverse with a substantial Catholic minority.
"Although more diverse than I originally thought, church and state do coexist closely," he continued. "Salt Lake serves as both the Utah capital and as the headquarters of the Mormon Church. The state capital building overlooks the expansive Salt Lake valley and Temple Square just a short way down State Street. There, at the coordinates of (0,0) on the city grid system, the magnificent Mormon temple stands beside the Tabernacle, home of the world-renowned choir, in the precise center of the city. Temple Square and surrounding buildings serve as the Mecca or global center for LDS faithful around the world."
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Stockton was very grateful for the kindness of the LDS people, saying he felt welcome "without feeling pressured into converting." But life in Utah wasn't always perfect, he said. "My only real beef with the land of Zion came during the NCAA playoffs one spring when all the television stations preempted the Final Four games in favor of the LDS general conference. Everyone missed some great games. There must have been some sports fans high up in the church who disliked missing the NCAA Finals, especially when the Running Utes were involved. By the time the Final Four rolled around the next year, the scheduling conflict was resolved and it didn't happen again. I was happy with the decision."
Stockton closed this section of his book with some words about the Mormon people. "The Mormons are an active, mission-oriented congregation with a focus on conversion. However, I was never asked if I wanted to be blessed or baptized into the church, and never once was I put into an uncomfortable situation . . . I became friends, in some cases close friends, with many of the Mormon faithful . . . these people, all of a different faith than me, not only made my opportunity with the Jazz possible, they enhanced and enriched the experience."
Photo from ESPN.com
John Stockton's autobiography, Assisted, is available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com!