I don’t know how many millennials know his name. Some do, the ones who were born in the 80s. But I can imagine that lots of current era Utah Jazz fans may not. Or if anything, you know his name, but don’t really understand the context. Well, on April 29th, 1992 four LAPD officers were acquitted for their violent, inhumane beating of the motorist. People were upset. And things spiraled way out of control. The aftermath of those four cops walking free resulted in the LA Riots. (And you can read more about it here.) Over $1 Billion in property was damaged, and the California Army National Guard, the 7th Infantry Division, and the 1st Marine Division had to be brought in to keep the city from being lost.
And that happened right as the Utah Jazz were playing the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the 1992 NBA Playoffs. That was the year that the Utah Jazz first went all the way to the Western Conference Finals -- a feat they would equal or surpass in four of the next six seasons. It was the beginning of the unbridled “Golden Age” of Utah Jazz basketball. I was so very lucky to to have been a part of it as a teen.
But I was also someone who had previously lived in Los Angeles, and had lots of family there (many who persist today in the area). And the LA Riots were so bad that they actually had to move NBA Playoff Games to other cities — to Anaheim.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s Steve Luhm paints the picture:
The off-day news conference was scheduled for a meeting room just off the pool area at the Utah Jazz's hotel in sunny Marina del Rey, Calif.
The television cameras were set up, ready to roll.
Reporters prepared for their day, which would begin when coach Jerry Sloan and star players John Stockton and Karl Malone arrived to discuss their playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
It was April 29, 1992.
Suddenly, a stirring in the back of the room evolved into a rush to tear down TV equipment and stampede the door.
"What's going on?" I asked an L.A.-based cameraman as he walked past.
"The Rodney King verdict is in," he said.
As ridiculous as it now seems, I didn't recognize King's name or worry about the verdict again for hours, after the streets of Los Angeles had already exploded in a fireball of death and destruction.
I interviewed Sloan, Stockton and Malone, wrote my stories without turning on the TV and — work finished — attended a baseball game with colleagues at Dodger Stadium.
The drive back to the hotel was a long one, however, because traffic was routed north out of the stadium parking lot — away from the neighborhoods where rioting had broken out.
For the next six days, Los Angeles was a war zone.
Read the full article over here, it recounts the series, the social effects, and just how what should have been a 1st round sweep turned out to be so much more for that team.
Social issues matter. Players have to be responsible for their actions, but also should be allowed to re-act to things that happen around them. Why? Because they are a part of this crazy world that we all share. The moving of a few NBA Playoff games isn’t the end of the world. But for hundreds of people in LA, their entire world was ending.
I cannot explain all of the world’s history in a sports blog post. But for the people out there who may not have known about this, or remembered how big it was — back in the day even sports had to make way for public unrest and cries for social change. Often sports is what we entertain ourselves with as a distraction. It’s not always going to get the job done.
So I guess be happy that we have sports? And happier still that we have athletes who understand that they can be more than entertainment. The Jazz golden era almost never started if they lost to the Clippers in the first round. And they almost did because of just how much the system broke down.