I would never have described myself as much of a soccer fan. I played for 2 years as a goalkeeper in elementary school because I struggled with the act of kicking a ball. I played some Fifa with one of my closest friends, but that was only because it was that friend’s preferred game. I watched games every four years, until the USMNT was booted out in the World Cup Qualifiers in 2018 and it seemed it would extend to an 8-year hiatus. Naturally, I was pretty shocked when someone I’d deemed as my “childhood idol” asked me if I’d want to take his soon-to-be vacant second season ticket to Real Salt Lake games. This was one of my first interactions with Andy Larsen.
The first time I met Andy, I was starstruck. I get that this might not be everybody’s reaction to meeting a beat writer for the Utah Jazz, but I saw an Andy that got to live out my own dream while on the younger side of 30 years old. A year earlier, he combined his degree in math with his self-learned skills in computer science with his love for basketball to write an article focused on how he simulated the remainder of the 2019 NBA season to get the odds on whether Jazz would make the playoffs and if so, who they’d play. Wait, what? He showed me a direct pathway in how all of my different skills can collaborate to create something unique that I could be proud of.
Andy’s not alone. The first time I met Sarah Todd, it took less than 20 minutes for Sarah to embrace a role in self-proclaimed motherhood for myself. I assumed it was just a joke at first, not many people follow through with something like this - so I was surprised to be getting sound life and relationship advice from Sarah over the course of the past two years. Sarah has never once lived down her chosen role of giving me an outlet and a friend.
The first time I met Eric Walden, I honestly had no idea that it was him. He was dressed as Slash from Guns ‘n Roses for a halloween party, and absolutely nailed the role. He and Sarah had a fun back and forth and ultimately decided that the Jazz beat writers would collectively dress up for the Halloween night game. Eric has a number of hobbies and interests that don’t show up often in basketball reporting.
The first time I met Tony Jones, I realized how hilariously in-tune with his job he was. We didn’t spend a second talking about anything besides the Jazz. I threw my conspiracies at the wall and hoped he’d give me the inside scoop on whether or not they were right, and some of them landed! It was obvious he’d come to care about the community in Utah and the societal work Donovan Mitchell had done in the area.
I’ve met and had interactions with others, Ben Anderson was nothing but cordial for the minute or two I spent with him during a summer league game. Though not directly reporting on the Jazz, Ben Dowsett and Andy Bailey have continuously put out heaps of positive content for Utah and NBA fans alike. Aaron Falk, among other editors, does phenomenal work while being hidden behind the scenes for a lot of these writers. Blog leaders like Dan Clayton and James Hansen put in 10-15x the amount of work that pays out to their role because of their love for the Jazz. It’s truly a wonderful community we’ve got.
In my short time of having various relationships with each individual I’ve mentioned above, I’ve found one commonality: Heart. My relationship with Andy and Sarah has largely come directly from… soccer. They choose to pay for season tickets for the local MLS team, Real Salt Lake, because of their love of sports and the joy they derive from spending time with others who are similarly enthusiastic. Eric often reports directly from the perspective of the players he interviews, intertwining their own words in his articles and tweets. Tony is a basketball fan through-and-through, and it doesn’t stop when his own Don’s hit the hardwood.
These individuals are not perfect. They’re paid in part to be critical of the team and something I’ve come to learn is that “the team” encapsulates the entirety of those involved. It is their responsibility to speak on ownership, players, coaches, management, as well as the fanbase and subject matter that may be uncomfortable to some readers. Yet, as evidenced in their now-infamous “Jazz Beat Writers Twitter Spaces”, they provide an unfiltered perspective from each of their different backgrounds on this team.
There’s a risk to that choice - a risk to be criticized themselves for being overly critical or off-base with the general fan sentiment. This is part of what makes the diversity in the Jazz beat writing so unique; not only do we have reporters stretching from different backgrounds, but in writing and reporting they’re each willing to deliver that perspective no matter the potential kickbacks.
Some time into the future, some more controversy will arise surrounding the team, and these same individuals will be given the space to provide their own opinions on the matter. In turn, I’d ask - whether or not we agree with the chosen perspective - let us remember to give our Utah Jazz beat writers flowers, not disrespect.