(This is an excerpt from Assisted by John Stockton and Kerry L. Pickett.)
“As part of the NBA collective bargaining agreement, players were contractually required to make up to twelve annual appearances on behalf of the team. Although many organizations throughout the league essentially ignored this provision, the Jazz held our feet to the fire. The players bucked mightily at the inconvenience. Unfazed by our protests, the PR staff called, reminded, prodded, and dragged us, sometimes grudgingly, to every event. Imagine trying to track down and escort a bunch of young, wealthy athletes somewhere they don’t want to go. The Jazz staff were consistently up to the challenge.
“I could grouse with the best of them. Somehow they managed to ignore my and everyone else’s resistance with a tireless sense of humor. All of our complaints weren’t completely unfounded. One night I was scheduled for an hour-long autograph session at a local mall. I signed for two hours, but eventually had to leave. Walking past a line of many people who had been waiting for at least that long created more ill will than it was worth. Ultimately, the staff and the players combined to work most of the kinks out of the system, to making the appearances easier and better for everyone.
“Some of the more difficult but inspiring appearances were the annual Christmas visits to the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children and the Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake. These visits usually occurred after long Eastern road swings when we were tired and convinced we needed a break. The visits took us into less than happy and often tragic circumstances when we wanted to focus only on the holidays. Invariably, we found the gift of the Christmas spirit where we hadn’t planned on looking—in the eyes and hearts of the parents and children we met during these visits.
“Shepherded by our staff, I learned that some of the most rewarding things we do can seem deceptively difficult before we do them. Walking into a room full of somber, concerned parents and loved ones looking after a child with steel bolts and brackets coming out of his/her skull is an example of something that would be much easier to avoid. I often found it hard to find words of any kind when I entered a child’s room under these conditions. Then, a Jazz ball would pop out from the staff’s goodie bag and eyes would light up around the room. The parents would begin to relax and share their stories while gently nudging their child to warm to us and the newly autographed basketballs. Smiles all around usually resulted. We always left each room with greater gifts than we had brought.
“The efforts of the PR department often made it possible for us to be the type of people we wanted to be but couldn’t without a little nudge. Putting others first is hard, especially when it feels as though you have no time and are being tugged in every direction. In the end, I enjoyed almost every appearance. I’m so grateful to the Jazz front office for insisting."
(John Stockton and Kerry L. Pickett, Assisted: An Autobiography [Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2013], 171–73).