I’ve been sitting here sitting at a blank page for about 30 minutes trying to come up with a way to encapsulate this entire Utah Jazz season. Looking for inspiration I tweeted out a request for people to tweet their favorite memories of the Utah Jazz season. Honestly, it was a last ditch effort to get past my own writer’s block.
They range from Donovan Mitchell’s first summer league game to his 40 point explosion to him carrying Utah to a Game 6 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 1st round. They honor Dante Exum’s return. Ricky Rubio’s just due in the limelight and as a premier guard in the NBA. Rudy Gobert’s “we will be fine” or his many poster dunks. There’s mentions of the Jazz acquiring Donovan Mitchell or Jae Crowder. There’s Dennis Lindsey finding the diamond in the rough with Royce O’Neale. Joe Ingles many displays of trash talk. There’s the way Utah played with heart every night. They felt like a family. Many mentioned the Utah Jazz’s miraculous comeback in the second half the season. So many highlights and all of it falls short of the words needed to properly give this Jazz team their just due.
All these amazing highlights, but they don’t mean anything without the struggles that Utah went through. Gordon Hayward jumpstarting the Jazz’s free agency by spurning them. Utah rummaging through the free agency bargain bin looking for what was leftover. Then came the injuries to Dante Exum, Joe Johnson, Rodney Hood, Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, and Thabo Sefolosha. Utah then had the month from hell in December which continued into January. They were on the verge of a full on collapse just as many had predicted in the hours after Hayward had left Salt Lake City in his wake of indecision until it wasn’t.
Many have anecdotally said that this Utah Jazz team has to be their favorite Utah Jazz team of All-Time. At first I skeptically listened because that just sounds like something you say when you’re caught in the moment. “This is the best pizza I’ve ever had.” “This is the best movie I’ve ever seen.” I saw those hyperboles as victims of the moment, but then the group who said this was their favorite Jazz team of All-Time grew and diversified. It wasn’t just young Jazz fans who were not accustomed to a superstar saying it, it was older Jazz fans who lived through the Mark Eaton and Darrell Griffith days and fans who had watched MJ take on Stockton and Malone in the Delta Center. It was writers of my own staff falling in love with a team that they before had a hot/cold relationship with. But why?
I keep on returning to a scene from Moneyball. This scene.
When I think of this Utah Jazz season, my mind keeps turning to this scene in Moneyball.— “Playoff SLC D” (@slcdunk) May 9, 2018
"How can you not be romantic about [basketball]?" pic.twitter.com/tCF4EaYwMm
“How can you not be romantic about baseball?” says Billy Beane.
But he doesn’t mean baseball in general when he’s speaking those lines. His romanticism is about the unpredictability. Every season before it starts is a blank canvas and somehow by the end of the season it has woven a tapestry of storylines, heroes, villains, wins, losses, champions, victors, losers, clowns, sadness, happiness, and, in the case of the Utah Jazz, underdogs. A team that though the odds repeatedly told them to quit, they refused. That’s why the Utah Jazz tugged at every Utah Jazz’s heart strings. Utah, more than any other fanbase, has an underdog complex. Whether it’s taught at a young age or just sensed by the defeats of decades past, Jazz fans are perpetual champions of the underdog. So it’s no wonder that when they were given the ultimate underdog they put them on the highest pedestal.
It’s impossible to untie the great successes of this year’s Utah Jazz without the failures. That’s what makes a great underdog: insurmountable odds. Nine games out of the playoffs at the end of January? They overcame it. Injuries to Rudy Gobert? They weathered the storm. Losing two of their top scorers in the offseason? They replaced them with a rookie and math teacher. Not to mention a schedule that looked hell bent on eliminating them before the end of 2017, a lot of roster turnover, and you have the perfect recipe for the perfect underdog story if there was a team capable of overcoming those odds.
So here I am still reaching to try to explain why this team is so special and its so many things. Like the replies to my tweet, they are so varied, but with every special moment this season there was an equally frustrating one that was enough to make fans lose hope. Maybe that’s why this team is so special. It’s one thing for a team to be successful. It’s another to pick a fanbase after it has fallen down, brush them off, lift them up, and give them hope. Yeah, that’s why they’re special. They gave this fanbase hope and a reason to look forward to next year.