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Andy Larsen: Jazz legend John Stockton gives an assist to anti-vax video, and that’s a bummer

Hall of Famer is my hoops hero, but he sure is no doctor or scientist.

(Colin E. Braley | AP) Former Gonzaga player John Stockton talks about his career during a National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame induction event Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo.

Growing up as a 6-year-old kid in Utah, I frequently practiced basketball in my driveway, trying to do all of the dribble moves and shots I saw my hero, John Stockton, do on TV, including a simple crossover. It was hard. The ball was too big for my little hands to control.

But everything changed in one day — my seventh birthday. My mom got me a vanilla cake with Stockton somehow made in imaged icing on the top, a thrill just to look at, let alone eat. I devoured too much of it, got home from my birthday party (at the Fun Dome, maybe?), and took out a basketball.

Now, I could do it. I could do a crossover. Like it was nothing, in fact. (Basically, it is nothing, but don’t tell young Andy that.) I, somehow, had ingested Stockton’s soul, and his skills were now mine. It was magic.

I relate this story to you now because Stockton is involved with an anti-vaccine video project based here in Utah — spreading theories that have about as much scientific validity as my “I ate cake-icing Stockton so I can dribble now” theory.

Here’s the basic deal: Patrick Gentempo of Park City and Jeff Hays of Murray founded Revealed Films in 2017. They’ve released nine video series, including hits like:

• “Money Revealed” — “Discover the Real Secret to Making Millions!”

• “Wine Revealed” — ”Every single one-of-a-kind interview and mind-blowing episode will revolutionize your relationship with wine.”

• “Christ Revealed” — “We invite you to go on an epic journey that uncovers NEW SHOCKING EVIDENCE that will deepen your faith.”

• “GMOs Revealed” — “Learn about the one GMO risk no one is immune too.” (Their typo, not mine.)

And, of course:

• “Vaccines Revealed” — “Join Us NOW Because You Won’t Find This Controversial Information Anywhere Else!”

“Vaccines Revealed” is not a new show from Revealed Films — it was first released in 2017, and then they adapted and changed it for the pandemic to take advantage of the COVID-19 vaccine scares.

Like the other Revealed series films, it operates on a “freemium” model: You get the 5-minute trailer for free, then have to enter in your email address for Episode 1. It alone is 2 hours and 40 minutes. If you want to watch the rest of the nine-episode series, you pay $79 for a digital download, or $149 for the producers to ship the DVDs to you.

It turns out that if you pay $79 to do this — as I did, to write this article — they will also upsell you on a 10th and 11th episode, and maybe some other bonuses here and there. I failed in my journalistic duty to note how much those additional extras were, so excited was I to see my hero, John Stockton.

Sorry, John, you’re wrong about Steph

Stockton appears in Episode 2, it turns out. Episode 2 is 2 hours and 6 minutes long, and Stockton’s interview with Gentempo is about 30 minutes of that.

Truthfully, Stockton’s section is more about his disappointment in COVID-19 restrictions than about his vaccine distrust. Stockton’s case is that, essentially, if it weren’t for one key year in his life, he wouldn’t have become an NBA Hall of Famer, and that there is some potential Hall of Fame kid out there who wasn’t able to show off his basketball talents at the right time as a result of the coronavirus restrictions.

“One of the things that kind of sticks in my head is Steph Curry,” Stockton says in the series. “I mean, losing Steph Curry to humanity, in terms of basketball, would kind of be a crime. And I thought about his senior year. He was on nobody’s radar. None. He had done nothing to set himself apart from anybody else in the entire college basketball, and all of a sudden the NCAA tournament hits and he gets a role, and one of the teams, unfortunately, he beat was Gonzaga [Stockton’s alma mater]. But suddenly, a nobody became Steph Curry.”

This is, well, not accurate. Curry played so well as a freshman that he won his conference’s tournament MVP and was named to the U.S. under-19 national team. By his sophomore season, he was nominated for an ESPY. By his junior season, he was the NCAA scoring leader. The idea that one season would have cost Curry — or Stockton, for that matter — an NBA future isn’t really the case.

But, sure, kids missing out on opportunities is an understandable bummer. His frustration for this, though, is a bit scattered in direction.

“The health district is a small group of people. How can they possibly tell a store owner, or a gym owner, or a bar owner, restaurant owner, how to be safe in his business? They don’t walk in their shoes,” Stockton says. “If you try to bypass the health district, if you try to bypass the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], if you try to bypass the governor, there are significant ramifications from a legal standpoint, from an institutional standpoint, that become overwhelming.”

Well, yeah, John, it’s agreed that the health district doesn’t own restaurants. But those experts do know a thing or two about health — and, frequently, the incentives of the restaurant owners don’t always align with keeping people healthy. It’s annoying for the employees at Jack and Dan’s Bar and Grill, the establishment once owned by Stockton’s father, to have to wash the grill all the time. It costs the company valuable time. And, yet, they do it because the health department makes them; because the health department knows that not washing the grill will sometimes lead to people getting sick. And, yes, if you break those rules, there are “significant ramifications from a legal standpoint” — your restaurant gets shut down.

That’s why we have a health department: Store owners, gym owners, bar owners, restaurant owners and the like can’t be trusted to put the health of their community over their own bottom lines.

Debunking the misinformation

Near the end of the interview, Stockton says enough to expand his platform from shortsighted but understandable frustrations on COVID restrictions to misinformed bloviating on scientific issues.

“It’s as simple as that. It’s recognizing that it’s a virus, and, frankly, not — if we trust the CDC’s own numbers — it’s not a very dangerous one by comparison to other viruses,” Stockton says, for example.

Are there worse viruses? Of course! Ebola kills about half of the people it infects. Is the coronavirus dangerous? Also yes. It’s killed more than 600,000 people in the United States.

“I don’t know what’s causing the holdup,” Stockton says. “If it’s a vaccine, I think that would be a very scary nature to continue on. Just because you’ve got a vaccine, I don’t know how you can test a vaccine in this short amount of time. I think vaccines, maybe more than anything, should be tested over 10, 20 years. But, then again, they wouldn’t be that effective then — at least they wouldn’t challenge the fear, because you couldn’t be done in a timely fashion, but there we go.”

The vaccines have been tested pretty extensively — both before they were released and after, now that hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated. While Stockton seemingly recorded the video before the vaccine’s release, it’s disappointing, yet revealing, how he’s already ready to write off the results of the testing.

“I hear my kids and my grandkids hearing these things, and accepting them as truth, when I know by my research — and that’s a significant amount of research — that it isn’t,” Stockton says. “And it’s very frustrating.”

Unfortunately, it seems likely that Stockton is doing his research from the other “speakers” featured in the “Vaccines Revealed” videos — and that’s where the real problematic stuff enters.

We’ve already spent significant time debunking the statements from one “Dr.” Ben Tapper, an Omaha chiropractor featured in the videos talking about how there’s “scanning technology” in the vaccines — there’s not, and the idea is ludicrous. Andrew Wakefield, the man who perpetrated the original fraud in linking vaccines to autism in 1998, is interviewed in Episode 2, before Stockton. Wakefield says, in the videos, that the vaccine wasn’t tested in animals. It was.

TV presenter Del Bigtree is interviewed in Episode 1; he told people to deliberately infect themselves with the virus on his show. Dr. Zach Bush is featured, and his “grand theory of health is based on the assumption that Mother Nature is a hyper-intelligence and (embraces) Bush’s spiritual desire to reconnect with her.”

These aren’t good sources of information for anyone, let alone a Hall of Fame point guard. But it’s not as if Stockton’s views are uncommon. There are tens of millions of vaccine deniers out there. That an aging Catholic granddad in Spokane, Wash., would fall prey to this sort of misinformation isn’t exactly a surprise. Truthfully, it’s a spectrum of beliefs: Stockton’s worldview is kind of the gateway drug to the more hardcore lies featured from other speakers in the “Vaccines Revealed” videos. Frankly, if I were making the series, I would have led with him.

But Stockton being vocal about this — among all of other issues he could have chosen — is, undoubtedly, a bummer. The man shouldn’t be “canceled,” or whatever that would entail. Disappointment, though, is fair.

Never meet your heroes, they say. Definitely never buy their $79 anti-vaccine video series.

Andy Larsen is a data columnist. He is also one of The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utah Jazz beat writers. You can reach him at alarsen@sltrib.com.

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