For the last ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to play basketball on Sundays with the ultimate servant leader.  He makes everyone around him better with his encouragement, intensity, constructive feedback and love for the game.  He’s made a huge impact on my life as a teammate, friend and mentor.  And by the way… he also happens to be the NBA’s all-time leader in steals and assists.

Robert Greenleaf coined the word and has a simple test to determine if you’re a servant leader: “Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

To watch John Stockton on the court is to see servant leadership in action.  Anyone that’s paying attention in the gym becomes wiser because of the way he plays.  His teammates grow in confidence through his words and are more likely to become servant leaders because of the way he serves others.

Although not all of us have the court awareness and vision to drop no-look passes in the League, we all have the ability impact our team through leadership.Stocks Article Pic

Here’s a list of six things Stocks does every Sunday that can make you a better servant leader:


John is the reason we show up every week.  He arranges the gym space and then sends a text message letting us know when we’re playing.

He invites a mix of professional, collegiate and high school players so that we can all learn from each other.  His weekly text messages and love of the game has kept the group together for over ten years.


Stocks is the guy who turns the lights on and sweeps the floor before we play.  He grabs ice bags if there’s an injury and locks up the gym after everyone has left.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he was the janitor or team manager.  This makes sense when you realize his whole career was dedicated to making the game easier for his teammates.


There’s not a warm-up game when John’s playing.  From the very first in-bound pass, he’s taking the ball right at you.

He cherishes every possession, knowing that each play is an opportunity for a great screen, cut and pass.  Since he plays like it’s the NBA finals in every pick-up game, you’re forced to either match his level of intensity or go home.


On multiple occasions, I’ve seen Stockton and a group of high school boys beat a team of collegiate and professional basketball players.  He gets the most out of each individual by knowing their strengths and weaknesses and then places teammates in positions to be successful.

If you’re a slasher, he’ll find you on a cut.  If you’re a shooter, he’s going to set a monster screen to get you open.  He’s a master at building confidence in others by playing towards their strengths.


No one gets more excited about a teammate grabbing an offensive rebound or making a great cut.  His energy and encouragement makes you want to do it again and again.

He’ll also slam the ball and yell at someone who doesn’t hustle after a loose ball.  But he doesn’t raise his voice because he can’t control his emotions.  He does it because he cares about the game and wants players to reach their potential.


The best part of hoops is sitting around afterwards and telling stories.  We highlight great hustle plays, talk a little trash, and if we’re lucky, we get to hear a story about the Dream Team or NBA Finals.

Out of all the great things that happen during our Sunday pick-up games, John treasures building relationships the most.  He really cares about us as people, not just as players.  Stocks will even show up to hoops when he’s injured, just so he can still be part of the group.

John isn’t a great leader because he’s a point guard or the best player on the team.  John’s a point guard and the best player on the team because he’s a great leader.

Leadership is not theory, it’s the culmination of all the little things you say and do for others.  Choose one or more actions from the list and become a better leader today!

There are 12 comments for this article

  1. says

    Well put men!!!!! Leadership is a science that can be taught if you are willing to do the work. Learning from others, even if you are the boss; getting dirty even when you are in charge;not caring who gets credit as long as a great idea helps solve the issue; remembering that you once were the “new guy” with ideas that others listened to; Remembering that without the team, you are just one person running around trying to get things done…without the team….you don’t matter.

  2. Bill DiRocco says

    We lived in Idaho Falls for a number of years and I took my sons to see the Jazz play at the Delta Center. I admired John Stockton a lot, probably because my sister and two of my daughters graduated from Gonzaga. Once while we were in Spokane, I watched a Jazz vs. Spurs game with John’s dad at the bar across the street from the Zags campus. Two years ago, one of those daughters got tickets to a Zag basketball game in Spokane. They played Pepperdine and after the game, I saw John in the hallway. I am still kicking myself for not at least saying “hi” to him and thanking him for the memories those years left with me. I wish him well and look forward to tracking the success of the Bobcat girls team.

  3. Joan Taylor says

    John Stockton was an inspiration to me which I passed on to my children and grandchildren when he played for the JAZZ. He was always very professional, illustrated “clean” play, and seemed very humble. You are very fortunate to have a personal association with him.

  4. Gary Cooper says

    Hey Mike, Cooper from Florence, Italy. Great piece about John and it says a whole lot of good about you too. I’ll be back in April and in touch.

  5. Lisa says

    A friend from Spokane went to school with John and has always spoken very highly of him. He is a quality person and shows it on and off the court. Something you don’t see everyday at his level. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Terri Crandall says

    What a beautiful testament to a wonderful leader.

  7. Jason Jordan says

    I grew up watching John play, and reading about these Sunday pickup games makes me so jealous. I’m often told I’m too competitive or too demanding but after reading this I realize I’m only trying to emulate my boyhood hero. Thanks for all the memories, John Stockton is and always will be considered an example to me on how I approach not just basketball but most of my life in general.

  8. Jacqyes says

    Great inspiration

  9. Diana Larson says

    Awesomely beautiful, a true leader by Teamwork.

  10. Judy LaMont says

    Servant leadership is the key ingredient to a happy, productive life. It never fails to succeed, regardless of the monetary outcome. John Stockton is an excellent role model.


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