As a kid I loved basketball. Basketball has always been my favorite sport, even though I was a better player at baseball. When I was 7-years old, for Christmas, my older brother bought me a basketball hoop, attached it to a big square piece of plywood, and mounted it on one of the huge cottonwood trees in our yard on the family potato farm up in southeastern Idaho. For the next 10+ years or so, until I went to college at BYU, I spent hours and hours shooting baskets out in our yard under that big tree in all types of weather--including, shooting baskets with gloves on (and also a heavy winter coat and beanie cap) in the deep snow, during the winter--resulting in a big mud hole under the hoop in our yard, which mud hole was there for many years. I also spent many hours playing basketball at the gym in our local Mormon church building every Tuesday night (Mutual night) and on weekends.
In junior high school, I tried out for and somehow made the 8th grade basketball team, and then somehow also became the starting small forward on the team, being a little above average height for an eighth grader. I also made the 9th grade team and was the starting small forward on the 9th grade team, as well. By my sophomore year in high school my growth spurt had stopped at 5'11" and I was converted into the starting shooting guard on the sophomore team for the first half of the season, and then was the 6th man (as a combo guard), off the bench, for the remainder of the season. As a junior in high school, I didn't make the varsity team, but was the starting point guard on the JV team. My senior year, at the end of varsity tryouts, the coaching staff told all of us they wanted to keep 15 players on the team, but they wanted it to be a team decision, so they had all the players (who were trying out for the team) vote on whether to keep 12--or 15--players on the team. Like everyone else, I voted to keep only 12 players on the team--and then, ironically, and unexpectedly, I was the last player cut from the team, which was a big blow to my self-esteem.
From the 9th grade on, all of my teammates on my school teams talked about, worked toward, and had the goal of winning the Idaho State basketball championship by the time we were seniors (because the varsity team at our future high school won the state championship when we were 9th graders, and we wanted to repeat that feat). By not making the school team my senior year, I missed out on that opportunity--and our team also fell a little bit short on that goal, placing third in the State Championship tournament that year.
All during junior high and high school, it was my dream to become an NBA basketball player. Back then, the NBA was only on TV once a week, on Sunday afternoons (except for the playoffs, which were on a little more than that). Every Sunday afternoon during the NBA season, I religiously watched the NBA game of the week (even though that might not have been considered "keeping the sabbath" in my strict Mormon household). Part of the reason I watched NBA games was to learn new basketball moves to incorporate into my personal basketball skills. During that time--late-60's and early-to-mid-70s--my favorite NBA players were Wilt Chamberlain, Earl ("the Pearl") Monroe, and Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar). My favorite NBA team during high school was the New York Knicks, with Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley, Dave Debusshere, Willis Reed, Dick Barnett and Jerry Lucas, as their main players (I believe that was the last Knicks team to win an NBA championship).
After I missed out on making my high school varsity basketball team, I had to accept the reality that I was never going to become a professional basketball player, and I moved on to Plan B for my life, and eventually became a lawyer (where my very competitive nature still comes out at times, in court).
I was a student at BYU when the Jazz first moved to Utah in 1979. I remember that a niece of Jazz-owner, Sam Battistone, actually lived in one of my LDS wards at BYU shortly after the Jazz moved to Utah (one of my "brushes with fame"), but I wasn't a fan of the Jazz for several more years. They had a pretty lousy team. I was in a social club at BYU (the BYU equivalent of a fraternity) called the Sportsmen Club. True to our name, we engaged in a lot of sports activities. I remember sometime in 1979 or 1980, as a club activity, we went to a Jazz game. The tickets were only like $3-$5 each--but there weren't many fans there, and it was pretty boring basketball. I also remember we had a club activity where we went out to the Utah State Prison and played a basketball game against the prison inmates, which was much more exciting than going to that Jazz game. I was probably more of an LA Lakers fan (heaven forbid) or a Boston Celtics fan at the time. It wasn't until about 8-10 years later (1987-1988 season), when the Jazz (with a young John Stockton and a young Karl Malone, and others) almost beat the (eventual NBA champion) LA Lakers in game 7 in the second round of the playoffs that I really started becoming a Jazz fan.
I moved out of Utah, to Idaho, for several years to go to law school, and then, after law school, I moved back and forth from Idaho to Utah for a few years, for my first few legal jobs. Once I moved back to Utah for good in 1989, I also became a Jazz fan for good. It helped that my brother-in-law had some company tickets for Jazz games on the fourth row (VIP seats), and would invite me to Jazz games. A few years later, I got to use my company's lower bowl Jazz tickets from time to time. In more recent years, my wife's company had VIP seats on the 2nd row that we would get to use occasionally, which was great fun. About 2002, I discovered the Internet, and that I could go on the Internet and learn a lot of information about the Jazz and other NBA teams (on ESPN.com). A few years later (or maybe about that same time), we got regular sports talk radio in Utah, which also fueled my Jazz fandom. Then about 10 years ago, I discovered "Fesenko Friday" on this website, and have been hooked on this website ever since, becoming an even more ardent Jazz fan.
All of you fellow Jazz fans probably have similar stories about how you became NBA fans/Jazz fans.
I think it's pretty cool that the new Jazz-owner-to-be, Ryan Smith, grew up playing Jr. Jazz basketball, and wanted to become an NBA/Jazz player--just like most of the rest of us Jazz fans (as kids). But one way in which he is obviously very different from the rest of us, is that, by having a great business idea, by being a very smart, hard-working and competent businessman/business developer, and by the grace of God, he and his family members started and built up Qualtrics, and became extremely wealthy very quickly, so that he found himself in a position to be able to buy the Jazz at a relatively young age, even though he was not able to realize his boyhood dream of playing for the Jazz.
I think I'll try having a new dream tonight--not about playing NBA basketball, but instead, about buying an NBA team, and what that would be like. Of course, just like my dream of playing NBA basketball, the dream of buying an NBA team will still only be a wildly unrealistic dream for me. But, for Ryan Smith--who probably grew up much the same as many other native Utah boys, and who was a Jr, Jazz player and has been a Jazz fan his whole life--the dream of buying the Utah Jazz isn't just a dream, it's now a very, very cool reality.
WHAT A COUNTRY!!