Grail Week: How short shorts sparked my long-term love affair with the Utah Jazz

As a basketball fan, what’s the one thing you want to get your hands as the highlight of your fandom? What’s the must-have on your bucket list? What is your grail?

Basketball grails are special. They don’t have to be the most rare, most expensive thing in the world as long. But their value to you is something immeasurable, inexplicable. It’s something that holds sentimental value, something that reminds you of a special moment or something you worked extremely hard to be able to get. Grails complete your fandom.

This week, SLAM PH is celebrating Grail Week. The team gets together to talk about their basketball grails and what those items mean to them.

What is your grail?

If you watch basketball today, you will notice something peculiar about how the players wear their uniforms today. Shorts are getting short again. While admittedly the shorts of today probably won’t shrink back to how they were in the 1980s, I think it’s about time we pay tribute to the patron saint of basketball short shorts: John Stockton

Let’s go back to the ’90s when the influence of Michael Jordan had sparked a revolution in the way players wore their uniforms by sporting a lengthier and baggier cut of shorts. By the early 2000s, most, if not all, basketball uniforms looked like they belonged in a hip-hop music video rather than on a basketball court. Yet there was this diminutive Utah Jazz guard who defied the norms and continued to wear his uniforms as if it were still the 80s.

From the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, the Jazz were identified by the triumvirate of bruising forward Karl Malone, long-time coach Jerry Sloan, and point god John Stockton. Together they developed a winning culture that was the envy of the league.

The Utah Jazz were the San Antonio Spurs before they were the San Antonio Spurs. Except they didn’t win championships. (That was the most painful, yet most truthful, sentence I have ever written in my professional career.)

I developed a consciousness for the NBA as a seven year old, watching the Jazz destroy a young Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil-led Lakers in the 1997 Playoffs. It helped that I watched a game in Los Angeles at a relative’s home and reveled at how the Jazz tortured my family. (See Kobe Bryant air balls.)

The Jazz piqued my curiosity as a young basketball fan, and the few NBA broadcasts I would catch that featured them would always have the line ‘Stockton-to-Malone’ repeated ad nauseam. So I rooted hard against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in both their Finals meetings.

It was the duo of a guy wearing short shorts in a world of baggy shorts and a man-mountain whose nickname is the ‘Mailman’, against a player who was already considered as the goat of the sport. I really liked our chances. We know how those series ended, so let’s not talk about them. (He pushed off.)

It was my seminal NBA Finals and there were three players whose appearances left a big impression. Jordan, wreathed in the flames of the devil, Dennis Rodman, whose hair then confuses me to this day, and John Stockton and his short shorts.

I learned that Stockton short shorts were unique in itself. I grew up around professional basketball, and any mention of short shorts on the basketball court would almost immediately draw a reference to John Stockton. Those short shorts also invaded one of my favorite TV shows of all time, with the girls from “Friends” declaring their love for John Stockton in a commercial.

Back then, the idea of balling in short shorts was laughed at for being an outdated concept from another era. Yet there I was, associating that piece of clothing with some of the greatest point guard play I have ever seen.

Stockton hung up his short shorts in 2003 and is still the NBA’s all-time leader in assists, by 3,715, and steals, by 581. By the looks of it, no one will come close to touching those records in the near future. I can also guarantee that each and every one of those assists and steals were made while wearing his iconic shorts.

Stockton and Malone were my idols, but when pressed I would pick the man in short shorts over the Mailman as my favorite. Malone elected to chase a ring in Los Angeles in his last playing year, while Stockton was content with what he had done on the hardcourt. (I don’t blame Malone for ring chasing.)

Stockton on the other hand, never played for another team as he let his 19-year NBA career wind down in Utah. Just like Stockton, despite the ups and downs of the franchise, my admiration for the Jazz organization never left as well.

Today the trend has shifted with players like LeBron James wearing more fitted and trim uniforms. Even in the Philippines, players like Adamson’s Sean Maganti and Magnolia’s Jio Jalalon are sporting short shorts again. But there has been no player who has sported it the way John Stockton has. The amount of thigh Stockton shown has yet to be matched since his retirement.

If there was a shrine dedicated to Stockton, the most prized relic on display would definitely be his short shorts. If given a choice between having a pair of short shorts or a jersey signed by Stockton himself, I would ask for the former in a heart beat.

While I could not personally rock short shorts the way my idol had before me, as my thighs are simply too thunderous for them, it doesn’t take away what they meant to me as a young basketball fan growing up. It was a symbol of consistency and excellence that has shaped my perception of what a true point guard should be.

Those Stockton short shorts are the banner on which my fandom for the Jazz was born from, and it lives on on strongly.

Photos from Getty Images, AP and USA Today

The Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ is dropping today. Check out the Titan on Instagram for details on how to claim your grail.

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