Showdown: John Stockton vs. Isiah Thomas
The tale of the tape for two legendary point guards.
I just finished rereading Jack McCallum’s entertaining book Dream Team, the story of how the 1992 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball team was assembled and then proceeded to destroy its competition in Barcelona.
Those of you who were alive at the time will no doubt remember the biggest controversy when the team was announced: John Stockton over Isiah Thomas. I don’t want to rehash that debate here — McCallum has lots of inside information about what transpired in his book — but I would like to take a look back at these two players, pit them head-to-head to see who comes out on top in a comparison of their careers.
I. Awards and Honors
Let’s take a look at the qualitative information first:
Both players are members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Stockton was an 11-time All-NBA selection (two First Team, six Second Team, and three Third Team) while Thomas received five All-NBA nods (three First Team and two Second Team). I should note that the All-NBA Third Team was not added until 1989-90, when Thomas was in his eighth season. However, all five of Thomas’ All-NBA selections occurred in his first seven seasons, and I don’t think he would have been a Third Team choice in either of his two other seasons had it existed.
Stockton was selected to five All-Defensive teams, all of them Second Team nods. Thomas was never named to an All-Defensive team.
Stockton received MVP votes in 12 different seasons, Thomas in 10. Each player received just a single first-place vote, Stockton in 1994-95 and Thomas in 1983-84.
Thomas was named to 12 All-Star teams, Stockton 10.
Thomas was named All-Star MVP two times, Stockton once (co-MVP with teammate Karl Malone).
Thomas played in three NBA Finals — winning two titles — and was named Finals MVP in 1990. Stockton appeared in two NBA Finals, losing both times to the Chicago Bulls.
In my opinion the qualitative evidence comes out on the side of Stockton, but it’s close.
Verdict: Small edge, Stockton.
Now let’s dig a little deeper and see what stories the numbers have to tell us.