Most public-facing individuals who have indulged in vaccine denialism have not surprised me. Joe Rogan, for instance, is an MMA commentator who hosts a three-hour-long daily podcast where he browses the internet and conducts gormless interviews, nodding along to the sentiments of contradictory grifters. Of course that dude was going to “question the science” and seek “alternative treatments.” His whole life is one big alternate treatment-seeking journey that people pay him copious amounts of money to go on. Brooklyn Nets guard and vaccine holdout Kyrie Irving has always been a very particular weirdo and pain in the ass. Aaron Rodgers believes in chemtrail conspiracies. Eric Clapton goes on racist “England for the English” rants and sucks at making music. He is the perfect target for paranoid sentiments about globalism or whatever.
And then there’s John Stockton. Before the last few months, even the most devoted of NBA fans couldn’t tell you much about John Stockton, the man. He was a great basketball player, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, the greatest player in Utah Jazz history (sorry, Mailman), and widely thought of as being “low-key dirty.” He was drafted late out of Gonzaga, a jerry-rigged basketball powerhouse located in Spokane, Washington, where Stockton was born and raised. When his NBA career ended, he returned to Spokane, where he raised his kids and stayed off the radar. For those not hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Spokane is a suburban sprawl in Eastern Washington notable for… not very much. Anyone who would retire there after making millions of dollars playing professional sports is looking to live a modest life.
He is not associated with any particular political cause nor any temperament aside from “steely focus.” Two of his five children, David and Laura, also played for Gonzaga. Until recently, he attended most Gonzaga games, sitting courtside. When called on to speak in public, something he seemed reluctant about, he deflected praise to his teammates. He claimed, in his Hall of Fame speech, that he was “never the best player on his team.” Incorrect, but you get it. He’s self-effacing, unassuming, and maybe even a little shy. He could have easily lived the rest of his life the way he has for the last 15 years without anyone giving it a second thought.
But dammit, John just had to “do a significant amount of research” and end up walking dick-first into a pit of the dumbest lies imaginable. You won’t find clips on YouTube of him appearing in “COVID and the Vaccine: Truth, Lies and Misconceptions Revealed,” an anti-vax conspiracy documentary, because they were all removed from the platform for posing a danger to public health. But, when it was released last June, right as people were getting vaccinated en masse, there was ol’ unremarkable John Stockton, staring into a webcam and telling everyone that he did “the research” and these vaccines are apparently crazy dangerous.
Look, I just cannot imagine that it’s in John Stockton’s nature to appear in an anti-vaxxer documentary with RFK Jr. and a bunch of doctors in on the grift. This is a guy who moved back to Spokane. He’s not thirsting for attention or driven by some wild passion or a right-wing provocateur making money hand over fist on the grift. He’s just a guy, on a computer, asking questions and getting dumb answers that multiply and renforce themselves over and over. People tell you the apocalypse is coming over and over and you not only eventually believe it, but it becomes important to you, and you decide that it’s so important that you must speak your truth on the 150 professional athletes who have dropped dead on the field because the vaccine damaged their hearts. (Not true, in case you were wondering.)
This week, Stockton, whose only apparent excess was his Gonzaga season tickets, was asked by the university to cease attending games as long as he refused to wear a mask. He didn’t lose his marbles over it, recording a video of himself ranting about Gonzaga in an SUV or what have you. He spoke with the local Spokane paper, told them that his focus is to maintain his relationship with Gonzaga, and that he felt that was also their concern as well: “They’ve made it very clear that we’re important to each other and I don’t think that’s going to change.” Moderate, passionless, and also completely wrong.
It’s incredibly strange that 10-time NBA All-Star and world-historic stoic athlete John Stockton walks around his house in Spokane, making toast for himself at 7 in the morning before riding on a stationary bike for an hour, all the while thinking about how millions of people are dropping dead because of the COVID vaccines.
But it turns out that we have drastically underestimated the deadliness and virulence of our social media infrastructure. A medium that tracks everything you engage with and then reinforces your strangest curiosities with even more of what you’re looking for is a perfect machine for presenting someone with something untrue—like, for instance, that COVID isn’t real, or that the safe, effective mRNA vaccines that can prevent its spread and mitigate its deadliness are poison. John Stockton is but one of millions of mild-mannered Americans being snookered.