I love the Utah Jazz.
Sadly, this is a statement that so many people contest. You know, like there’s such a huge bandwagon of South Asian origin, Canadian born, immigrant Jazz fans who live in Detroit. That are Hindu. And loyally followed the Jazz since 1987-1988, aka, before the internet. Still, I find it necessary to write about this point in this, my "I love the Utah Jazz post," post. I was jealous about the other, better, more creative writers who share blogging responsibilities with me at this site. While I started out going hard with the numbers they got a chance to really find their voice. Moni’s posts bring the house down. Clark’s posts generate the most discussion. Yucca’s posts stir the passions of the readers. Prodigal Punk’s posts explain things so that hardcore fans and casual fans alike can enjoy. And everyone loves Diana’s stuff. Shut up, Diana, don’t get a big head or anything. I don’t even need to mention Sujal’s rants, Taz’ Xs and Os, or even the ‘new kids’ Andy and Alec hitting home runs.
Everyone here does such a great job, and their fandom is never in question. No one’s is except, I guess mine. That’s fine. I want all people to be able to express their opinions to me directly. I want to be available and accessible to everyone. Why? Because I like reading 12 angry e-mails a day? No. I want to hear what you have to say because you are fans of the Utah Jazz. And I am, above all, a fan of the Utah Jazz too. You love the team. And I love the team. And by communicating we get a chance to share our love.
I am in love with the Utah Jazz. Let me tell you about it.
When I was old enough to care about sports the only sport I cared about was the NBA game. I didn’t care about College ball when I was introduced to being a ‘fan’ of basketball. And I remain a ‘non-fan’ of the NCAA game today. And when I was old enough to care about the NBA I was living in Los Angeles. It was 1984. Ronald Regan was the president. The Olympics were in town. The weather was great. McDonald’s introduced the McDLT. And I was finally getting out of my break dance roller-staking phase. (Clearly, I missed my calling) The only game that mattered was the NBA. And I got to see the best players play their best. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bernard King, Isiah Thomas, Adrian Dantley, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Sidney Moncrief, Michael Cooper, Dennis Johnson, Alex English, George Gervin . . . the vast majority of those guys were still in their physical peaks when I started following the NBA game.
What I was exposed to was high quality ball, played the right way. Guys played in teams that passed. The "iso and watch the star" offense that Michael Jordan brought was a few years to still come. Guys ran back on defense. The team captains worked hard to get easy shots for the bench guys – and the bench guys killed themselves to make sure that they didn’t let their captains down. Guys played hard, and with pride. There were hard fouls, and guys would not let themselves get punked. And I got to see Larry go against Magic in the NBA finals. It was their first finals at the NBA level – and all of this was my first year following the game.
It was like fireworks from your first kiss – and not some awkward forced maneuver where one of you forgets to breathe, or close their eyes or whatever. This was love. I fell in love with this game. And I learned this game from the best. Team defense. Passing up star shots for the ‘better’ shot even if it was getting the ball to Kurt Rambis instead of James Worthy. And it was perfect from the start.
There is always the story before the story. The past. Some call it baggage. The foundation of the narrative, with the main story to come, if you will. When I was living in LA I learned the game, and learned what good play was like. I learned it from the Showtime Lakers. It was unavoidable. After all, I was living there. Still, the way I felt for the concept of being in love with a team was stronger than my actual affection of the Lakers. I loved LA, but I was not in love with LA. We’re all familiar with Romeo and Juliet. Romeo was made for love, so much so that he was searching for it, before he really found it. Before Juliet – his true love – he thought he loved Rosaline. She was the object of his affection only because he had yet to *really* fall in love. He quickly dropped Rosaline as soon as he cognitively processed the connection he felt Juliet. However, the initial understanding of love, of affection, and of that world came first through Rosaline. He learned from that life experience, but knew there was no similarity towards the relative depths between the two relationships.
The Lakers, and loving the whole NBA, as a young kid was my Rosaline. And the Jazz my true love. After I really SAW the Jazz (and c’mon, I didn’t live in Utah – it’s not like they were on TV all the time back in the CBS NBA days) there was no denying my love of this team. Really, love at first sight.
The Jazz had the crazy Mardi Gras colors (my fav), the music note, and were named after a type of sound. A style. They were not a boring Sports Team named after an animal, landmark, or feature of physical geography. They were already miles ahead – they were a concept and feeling. And they played like the very personification of it.
My schema for what a head coach was Pat Riley – slick, in control, calculating, and sharp; some Al Pacino type that got results but was not really approachable. Frank Layden changed my schema for sure, far from the Pacino type – more like a Rodney Dangerfield type who was frumpy, disheveled, and hilarious. He was always cracking jokes. Riley was a perfectionist who was always hard. Layden was fun, and didn’t force his will, he conducted. That’s what the Jazz were, and beyond the first blush, the more I learned about the Jazz the deeper my love grew.
The 1988 NBA Playoffs:
[Ed. Note: This used to be Lakers voice Chick Hearn and Karl Malone in '88 laughing]
I was living in Canada at this point in time, and the playoffs were on TV. Well, not each game. And not each series. And usually only on the weekend. And only in standard definition. And plus the TV was like 18" in size. Despite all of that, I could watch the Jazz. And that’s all that mattered.
In the second round of the playoffs the Los Angeles Lakers would play host to the Utah Jazz. This is, honestly, the definitive playoff experience for me still to this day. I did not inherit Jazz fandom from my parents, nor did I have some regional loyalty to them because of where I lived. In fact, I had way more experience being a Lakers fan up until this second round series. It was this series that caused me to drop the Lakers like Romeo forgot about Rosaline one heart beat after seeing Juliet. It was this series that made me a Jazz fan, for life.
A huge thing about finding that team to love forever is finding parts of that team that you agree with. The Lakers had it all by 1988. They had a rich history. They had the titles. And they had home court. The Jazz were hungry. They were the "2010s OKC" but back in the 80s. John Stockton always approached the ultimate decision on every play (* I need to do a post on this later to better explain this point). Mark Eaton could not be ignored and he made life for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar very hard. The Lakers still had the wings who could do anything against the Jazz, and Magic could play every spot on the floor. But the Jazz had Karl Malone. Young. Powerful. Not perfect. Far from polished. But immediately recognizable as a force of nature. A pure talent. He was not showtime. He wasn’t skinny sinew and grace. He was power.
The Lakers were "glam". And while I’ve lived in a lot of the biggest cities in the world – London, LA, and so forth – they were never me. Small town, hard working, hungry, untested but with the will to fight – that was me back in 1988. The Jazz were facing off against THE best team in a second round series that they, on paper, had no right to even be in.
The Lakers had home court. Some of you younger Jazz fans may not know this – but that young team led by over-dipped soggy cookies ended up winning Game 2. They regrouped from the Game 1 butt kicking to STEAL homecourt and fly back to Salt Lake City with the split.
That Jazz team was tough. They fought. They didn’t lose by 40 points to Paddy Mills and Boris Diaw. They won game 2, in the Great Western Forum, against the Showtime Lakers – when guys like Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Scott, and all of them were healthy and playing in their physical peaks. And while the Lakers would prevail, the Jazz did not roll over. They fought all the way to seven games, somehow playing 4 on 5 on offense (Mark Eaton doesn’t make life easier for you on offense) against the team that would eventually win the ring.
The Jazz did not win the title that year. But they did win a fan for life in me.
What was so great about the Jazz?
The biggest thing for me was that with the Jazz I could find a no-nonsense team philosophy that resonated with me. The Boston Celtics were about tradition. The Lakers about flash. Neither of them really did it for me, partly because I HATE liking something that is already big and popular. (Which explains why I kinda fell in love with Parks and Recreation in Season 1, while I never got into The Office – no one liked P&R, but I found things within it to fall for) The Jazz fulfilled that hipster before hipster niche for me. And more than that – the team personality was so damn agreeable to me as well.
They played tough, despite limitations. They never made excuses. They didn’t play expecting to lose to a team that was a multiple championship winner (*cough* Al Jefferson *cough*). Their coach was hilarious. Their young stars would OWN the next decade – and this just in – they did. They were a small town team that fit this small town boy, and they played up to their team style. The Jazz. Even just the team name . . . how freaking cool is that? "Jazz". So cool.
A big part about finding that team to root for is finding players you can root for. John Stockton was a master of efficiency. Mark Eaton did his job, and even did public service announcements against child abuse (how many PSAs did Jordan do . . . you know, besides all of his PSAs that were worried about underemployment of children in Asian sweat shops?). I could go over the Jazz team back then and say something cool about each one. But the biggest star, the player that shone the most to me, that ‘guy’ that I just had to root for was Karl The Mailman Malone.
[Ed. Note: This used to be a basketball card from '89 showing Stockton, Malone, and Mark Eaton in a pose as All-Stars]
I did not get into the NBA during an ugly period of the game, I saw it when it was at its’ apex. And I did not get into the Jazz when Malone was a jumper shooting veteran. I was lucky enough to see Malone back during his excessively angry young man days. How do you explain what Malone was like back then to new NBA fans? Well, 1980s/90s Karl was Amare Stoudemire’s mobility + Blake Griffins size and power + Kevin Garnett’s nasty +
Greg Oden’s dick . . . but with the 80s/90s equivalent to James Harden’s beard and also scoring 30 ppg, every game, and never being injured. (N.B. A lot of people forget that opposing players would get injured while fouling Karl Malone. It wasn’t that Malone was a bad dude, guys got injured fouling HIM – not the other way around.)
More than just being tough, and being the prototype forward for this new era of basketball – Malone also always produced. I grew up watching the Lakers beat teams into the ground through relentless effort and talent. Malone beat teams into the ground because of the same principles – but on hard mode. Other teams used to triple team Karl, and he still found a way. This wasn’t like a good college player being tripled in college. This was Karl Malone being tripled by NBA players, at the behest of NBA head coaches who needed to find a way to slow him down. If you defended Karl in single coverage you would lose. If you doubled him you would lose. You had to send a triple team at him, and if you look at all the Ws the Jazz had in the post-Dantley era – there’s a lot of evidence of NBA head coaches always needing to learn the hard way.
I loved all of the Jazz players, but some more than others. For a (at that point in time) out-of-the-country NBA fan, I needed an icon to hold onto. Karl Malone was that guy for me. He worked hard, and dominated. The Lakers made it look easy. And at this stage in my development – I felt like life was supposed to be hard. While the rest of the kids on the basketball team wore Reebok Pumps or Jordan’s I wore L.A. Gear. Before the Regan era ended (the era that my love of the NBA started) my religion became the Utah Jazz. And Karl Malone was my God. (He had the body of a God, at the very least.)
I’m not going to put a chart here. I’m not going to rattle off trivia. I’m not going to go into all the statistics. The only thing that I really need to say is that during my time as a Jazz fan the Utah Jazz have won more games than a number of teams that lucked out to win titles in the last few decades. The moon is ever changing and has distinct phases – like some fan bases. Over my life as a Jazz fan the Jazz have shone like the sun. Daily. Without fail. This is the type of consistency that can only make you fall in love with a team even more. The Jazz didn’t fire coaches or shuffle the deck like a lot of other teams. They didn’t live off of hype. They didn’t get all the adoration. But they won. Every year. They won. 1988. 1989. 1992. 1996. 1998. And so on. All the Jazz did was win. So much so that you could accuse them of kicking ass. But we don’t use that language here. So pretend you did not read that.
The Jazz were so much more lovable because they always won.
Larry H. Miller, Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson, and the rest of the Brass:
Maybe it is historical revisionism here, but back when I first started my Jazz fandom it seemed like the very sky was the limit for this team. New arena in ’91. The owner was willing to do whatever it took, and paid the big contracts. New coach a few years earlier, a no nonsense type who was defense first (my favorite part of the game). A great staff. Toughness. Hard work. No excuses. Accept earned defeat. Plan for success. And go out there to give it your all . . . when you ask me what is Jazz basketball it’s all of that. That’s the philosophy that our team took and our players championed in those days. Malone was demonstrative, and while the people in Utah got more of him than I ever did (being far from SLC gave me a different impression of the more you Utahns saw), he was still all about the Jazz and winning. The franchise had integrity, and the franchise had clawed its way up to the big boy’s table. They commanded respect. The team sold out every home game. The crowd was always loud. The team was winning. The team had good players. The team played the right way. But more than all of that, the franchise was run the right way and with the morals and values that I loved. And I was infinitely happier being a Jazz fan than I ever was as an NBA fan living in LA.
And a huge part of that was all because of LHM, Sloan, and company.
Love is more than just the good times:
As a Jazz fan I’ve come to accept a lot of heart ache. Like any other love – nothing else made me happier than when the Jazz won. And nothing made me more upset and sad than a Jazz loss. Even if it was a stupid loss to the New Jersey Nets and stupid Derrick Coleman who is stupid and has a stupid face, back in 1994, in November. I think the type of commitment that the Jazz franchise has elicited from us crazy, hardcore Jazz fans (who spent the majority of their time at work talking about them today), was such an involving commitment that WAS like a real relationship. The Jazz meant so much to me that if the Jazz were losing I’d get physically sick, and if the Jazz lost a game the enjoyment I’d receive from other things would be severely diminished. (Like that one awkward Valentine’s day loss to the Sacramento Kings in OT, in ’99)
I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
My hate for the Golden State Warriors and Don Nelson was cemented when they swept us out of the playoffs with his 4 guard lineup. A special part of my black heart is reserved for the Portland Trail Blazers for Terry ‘Can’t Miss’ Porter in ’92 and that degenerate Jail Blazers team that made Jeff Hornacek retire in ‘99. I’ll never forgive the Sacramento Kings for acting like there was a bounty on John Stockton in those early 2k games. Even today I would not hesitate to push former Dallas Maverick Calvin Booth down a flight of stairs, into the path of a bulldozer. He knows what he did.
These are not the feelings of a rational human being. No, these are the feelings of someone acting upon the heart. My love of the Jazz fuels my irrationality. If you hurt MY Jazz, I will hate you forever. Period. I love the Jazz. I am a Jazz fan.
The Fan Card:
So here we are, in 2012. I’ve been a Jazz fan for over seven Presidential terms now – from Ronald Regan to an election in 6 months. I’d don’t feel the need to stay home from school if the Jazz lose anymore. Partly because I’m not in school anymore – but also partly because while the team I love and desperately cared for is still there . . . I am in a strange position now. I’m not some high school teen who lived and died by his team during their peak success years. I’ve seen the rise and fall of the Jazz a few times now. I’m an older Jazz fan. And I also have to write about them now. Which means that I *kind of* have to recognize that there’s life after a bad loss to a Sacramento Kings lottery team. All of that said . . . I’m not ready to give up the fan card.
I am still crazy about the Jazz. I think I always will be. While I may be on the precipice of getting AllThatMediaCredentials for the summer league games I’m still a crazy, irrational fan at heart. While I’m not the ‘rah rah’ pom pom type of loud fan I used to be – I am a slightly more veteran fan. I’m crazy about the team – but crazy in a different way now. I saw the best years of this team when they were happening. And I’ve seen a few false starts since then. I’m crazy about the Jazz and love them. As a result I want them to be BETTER, I want them to reach the heights we went to before. I want to see another Golden Age of the Utah Jazz, and I think we have some of the parts now. I am afraid that "they’ll" screw it up if they aren’t careful though.
As a ‘veteran’ fan I think I’ve earned the right to be critical of the team though. I love the franchise, implicitly. However, that doesn’t mean I will say that I love everything this Jazz team does, automatically. Karl Malone played 30+ mpg as a rookie – Derrick Favors plays 21 mpg as a soph. There are a lot of examples of things I don’t like. Our attitude. Our lack of toughness. How we’ve abandoned our progressive nature, name, and style. The Jazz is free flowing, people playing off of one another, guys picking things up and passing it along. It’s motion. It’s fluid. It moves you. It’s not that Star Isolation where other guys watch. You may have a solo in a song, but you are still part of the collective contribution that involves everyone.
I love this Jazz team. I’m not some insider. I’m a fan. I will always be a fan. Why? Because I love the Jazz franchise. There are bright spots I need to concentrate on. And I promise you I will try. But I know what we were. And that gives me perspective to see where we are now.
I think we’re close to getting back on track to being like the team I fell in love with. The Jazz that we can be is a Jazz team that gets the ball off of a Derrick Favors defensive rebound, that initiates the offense with Gordon Hayward, who drives, draws in defense, and flips off a pass to a cutting Alec Burks – who himself was freed by off the ball movement and a screen by Enes Kanter . . . which results in sweet music I will always want to be a fan of.
I am a Jazz fan till I die.
I think there are bits and pieces of this story that are somewhat in common with a lot of you – and feel free to share in more detail in the comments section. I’d love to read them. In a way, the ingredients of Jazz fandom for a dude in his 30s should be pretty similar to the rest of you people born in the 70s/80s who grew up watching the same Jazz teams that I did. The ingredients should be the same, even if the recipe is a little different. Maybe you had special moments and memories of watching the Jazzz with your dad. Or maybe you were hooked when you went to your first home playoff game. Or maybe you just loved John Stockton’s short shorts. You’re probably also a Jazz fan till you die too.
I’m also interested to read about the experiences of people younger than me, who joined the Jazz during different phases of our franchise. I’m sure you guys probably went crazy trying to ‘catch up’ just like how some international Jazz fans like Tazz, Moni, and I kind of had to when we could. (One of the coolest things I did was read up about the Jazz from before I was an NBA fan – I’m also sure lots of people have done this, respective to when they joined our Jazz fan community. I learned a lot, and can’t recommend it enough.)
I just want the Jazz to be kicking as much butt as possible. Which is why I write negative things about them at times. I’m not interested in writing mean things for shock value. I’m not trying to be best friends with more powerful bloggers by saying bad things about the team I love. I don’t want to write anywhere else. And I don’t want to write about the NBA. I only want to write about the Jazz. They’re the only team I love. So I’m going to keep writing about them, and until you guys mutiny, it’s going to be me writing about them here. Shut up.
There are many reasons why I fell for the Jazz, and I tried to explain some of them here. There are some very important reasons why I’ve stayed ‘married’ (as it were) to the Jazz through the good times and bad times though. Here are some of them: they never gave up, they respected themselves to not be punked, and had toughness. The players played the game the right way. And the Jazz brass did things to instill confidence, and win or lose, I cheered.
Hi, my name is Amar. I’m a Jazz fan. And I want them to kick butt again. Let’s all work together to make this happen.