Dear Greg Miller,
I am a life-long Jazz fan. I've been through the best of times, and the worst. And right now I am dreading the night of January 2nd, in what will very possibly be the worst moment I will ever live through as a Jazz fan.
When thousands of fans in the ESA stand and boo Andrei Kirilenko.
I've extolled everything about Andrei many, many times before. But to summarize: he's in the top-10 of virtually every statistical category in Jazz history. He single-handedly kept the team relevant after Stockton and Malone. He led one of the worst rosters in NBA history to the brink of the playoffs in 2004. He was the most complete player of the Deron Williams years, and if you bother to look at anything more than ppg he was the second best player on the team. He single-handedly turned a roster that should have been a terrible defensive team into one that was perennially top-10. He was the most unselfish player in team history not named John Stockton. He adapted and willingly filled any role the coach asked him to do. His only melt-down happened when he felt like the team was intentionally shutting him out of the offense (a feeling that was, unfortunately, accurate). And note it wasn't about shots ... it was just out wanting to be part of it all and contribute. When he felt he wasn't living up to his contract, he asked if he could re-do it. He was one of the most entertaining players of all time—and one of the very, very few who were thrilling to watch on both ends of the court.
And on January 2, he's going to be welcomed back by a throng of boos.
It will be the a new low for fans and a team that just doesn't seem to treat its former players very well.
And we all know it's coming. The ridiculous venom thrown at Derek Fisher year after year after year has gained infamy. Deron Williams spoke at how much hearing the boos hurt him last year. And don't even get me started on the boos directed at Memo Okur—a guy who never wanted to leave, a guy who sacrificed his career for the Jazz during the 2010 playoffs, a guy who gave us everything we could have ever hoped for.
It must stop.
I believe this culture of hating former players can be changed by you. I believe the spat with Karl Malone, the way coaches and journalists employed by the team trash former players ... I believe all this contributes to the ongoing parade of boos for our former heroes.
But this can change, and here's how:
A New Tradition: Once a Jazzman, Always a Jazzman
It's very simple: whenever a former player is in the house, before the game starts, invite the crowd to stand and give an ovation. Do this every game in which one is there: whether it's Karl Malone sitting in the stands or Ronnie Price and Wesley Matthews visiting with Portland or even *shudder* Mark Jackson broadcasting with ESPN.
Get the cameras on their faces, broadcasted over the Jumbo Tron, while you stand up and say something like:
"Remember: once a Jazzman, always a Jazzman. We never forget that you were part of our family. We never forget what you gave. Thank you, Ronnie for the five years you spent with us. Thank you Wesley for the terrific rookie season. Thank you Mark. And thank you Karl Malone for 19 years of thrills." Fans applaud. "And now, let's get back to our guys now, who are going to kick butt tonight! "
And with that, the Jazz intros ensue.
Nothing huge. Just a little acknowledgement. Just a little invitation for fans to show appreciation for the guys they used to cheer all the time.
One major adaptation
When Lamar Odom returned to L.A. after being traded to the Mavs, the Lakers broadcast a "Thanks for the memories, Lamar" video. It was honestly one of the classiest and most moving ways I've ever seen a team treat an ex-player. And it inspired a standing ovation from the crowd as he came into the game.
Let's do the same kind of thing. But not for one guy. Let's make it a tradition.
Whenever a major player—say a starter for multiple years—returns to ESA for the first time as an opponent, greet him and pump up the crowd with a thank you video like that. Help the crowd remember all the good times, all the thrills, all the magic he gave us while he was here. I'm talking, of course, about Andrei Kirilenko on January 2nd. But I'm also thinking of Boozer, of Memo, and yes ... of Deron Williams.
Please, make the video. Then stand up on the court and say:
"Deron, we know it was a hard parting. It wasn't easy for us. And I know it was very hard on you. In the end, I think we're both okay with where we are today. But I'm sorry it took so long for us to acknowledge what you gave our team. I want to fix that tonight. You led our team on the best run in its history aside from the two guys who have statues outside. And we'll always be grateful for that. We'll always appreciate the memories from your six years with us."
We wish you luck on the Nets ... but not for tonight. We're planning to kick your butt. I hope you at least give us a good fight, though."
And that's that.
And from then on, every other time he visits, he gets the same general acknowledgement and applause given to all former players.
There will still be some boos, of course. But the more you do it, the more it will feel natural, until it's simply tradition. It will feel lik just a special part of " The Jazz Way." It will also get attention. Players on other teams will notice. Our players will notice.
And if you try to start this early, if you establish the pattern from the first pre-season game ... maybe then that January 2nd game against Andrei Kirilenko and the Timberwolves won't be the horrible moment I now anticipate.