Last night the Utah Jazz played the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time since their big trade. It was already a game the players had circled on the calendar for a while, but yesterday Enes Kanter made some comments, truthful or hurtful or whatever, that gave both sides extra motivation for this game. The game was physical, combative, and the refs had to call a few technical fouls. It was everything you want from a potential "revenge" game -- the former Jazzman getting boos, playing well to try to shut up the crowd, his former teammates going at him, and of course, a Utah victory.
It's good drama, no matter what the outcome.
But I think too many people are going off the deep end with their apparent new-found hatred of Kanter. It's not like he lied to our team owner to get out of a legal binding contract to go sign with our major opponent / obstacle in the Conference (Derek Fisher), or tried to instigate a locker room coup to oust our team captain (Mark Jackson), or a guy who was openly critical of legendary coach Jerry Sloan (John Amaechi), or someone who wouldn't suit up in important games, take a lot of time off each season, and then proclaim that he was gone -- and getting a raise regardless (Carlos Boozer). Too often I find myself trying to bring the big picture / greater frame of reference to some of the more emotional fans out there that I am lucky enough to interact with.
Kanter was THE GUY that used to go to all the community events, read to children at schools, visit kids in the hospital, and so on. He was even used in Jazz promos as Kanter Claus, and so forth -- even though he wasn't even Christian. He loved it in Utah, and loved being a part of the Jazz, no matter what he said in an emotionally charged first return here, where he has to (like most 22 year olds) put up some barrier (or "front") like he doesn't care. When he got called for his second foul and he lined up in the box his right eye started twitching like crazy. Longtime observers would remember that this was his default nervous tick that he developed because of external stress -- he had it for MOST of his rookie year in Utah. He got booed, he said things that may not have been 100% true, and after the game he had to double down on his statements like all young, proud, men. Men who can't ever show weakness. But on the inside this 22 year old was still the same dude that worked so hard to earn more minutes with the Jazz, even though minutes could not have been earned in his 2nd year in the league.
I'm not absolving Kanter of what he said, or admonishing fans for booing him. I do want to put it into better perspective that while he has to try to be stubborn and praise his new team while trashing his old one, it is very likely that he is doing that because of the advice he is getting. He's in a contract year, he has to prove his loyalty to OKC in order to drive up his market price for whatever team he signs with. It's Kabuki. Or the WWE. It's good drama.
But while what Kanter did has hurt a lot of fans, the actual harm to the franchise is quite low compared to some of the stunts other former Jazzmen pulled. And while Enes's Thunder didn't get the win, he did something that very few players have in their return games . . . . he hurt us out there on the court. (Yes, +/- indicates otherwise, and his inability to defend also helped the Jazz very much. I know all of that.)
Here are the Top 20 players who Jazzfans wanted to boo, and what they've done in return games. Also, because two of these guys didn't even play, I had to add two guys Jazz fans loved -- Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver, to make it an even 20.
- Paul Millsap: Not only was he a Jazz lifer, but is perfect against his former team, and he's dropping 20+/10+ each game.
- Karl Malone: Only played one game against the Jazz, and got it done. If we're removing guys Jazzfans cheered for in their return, Malone is tops here. Also, of note, this was a Lakers home game.
- Enes Kanter: The man of the hour actually pounded the Jazz if you just look at the boxscore. An old-aged Malone like line.
- Bernard King: Why this guy played only 19 games for the team is lost to the annals of time. And sadly, only his points against the Jazz were recorded in full, the rest of the data is the average from the boxscores that were available in full (only 8 of 23).
- Al Jefferson: I don't know if people wanted to boo him, but he was a big part of what we did (2.5k mins a year), in his return he has been good, but not great, mirroring his time with the Jazz
- Carlos Boozer is sadly winning two out of every three games against the Jazz, which hurts us more than his diminishing returns
- Deron Williams is someone who really *really* wanted to hurt the Jazz every time he faced them, but for the most part has not
- Wesley Matthews was someone we loved, but all of his "three goggles" made him someone we didn't love anymore
- Adrian Dantley had a pretty public divorce from the Jazz, and had some very solid games against his old club, but he doesn't seem to stick anywhere that love. He had a very public divorce from the Pistons too, and missed out on a ring or two
- Kyle Korver, beloved by all, is a perfect 9-0 against the Jazz. We shoulda kept him
- Mo Williams was left without a chair when the music stopped as the Jazz decided to go with Carlos Arroyo and Raul Lopez. He proved to be the most successful player as time went on. He returned to the Jazz for one season, but between all of that has been solid against the team that drafted him.
- Eric Murdock, for those lifelong Jazz fans born too late, got into it with Jerry Sloan, Larry H. Miller, and others on his way off the franchise. The PG had some okay seasons in the East, but failed to exact revenge upon the Jazz.
Dell Curry is getting revenge on the Jazz through his sons (Stephen Curry in the NBA, and Seth Curry in the NBADL), and he really should have been kept around for longer than his rookie year. He had a few good games against Utah, and this is a very funny story in hindsight -- the Jazz had a great shooter to compliment John and Karl fall to them, but they didn't use him, and he spend his career being excellent while Utah floundered year after year until they got Jeff Hornacek. In doing so they wasted the physical primes of their Hall of Famers.
- Raja Bell joined the team when he was young, and left it when he was young, only to return years later. He's had some strong shooting nights against his old club, but some fans booed him early on because he spurned the Jazz for the Suns as a free agent.
- Mark Jackson is a selfish dick. That is all.
- Shandon Anderson was to be the Jazz' starting shooting guard after Hornacek retired, but Shandon wanted a lifestyle / offcourt upgrade, and got it in Houston and New York. He didn't ever return to an NBA Finals though.
Andrei Kirilenko never got a 5x5 against the Jazz, and he was a shell of his former self when he left the Jazz. Some booed. Some cheered.
- Derek Fisher is more than just a selfish dick. He's also a backstabbing prick.
- Greg Ostertag left the Jazz for the Kings, and it's often the most loveable goofs that elicit the largest responses. He was one of them. He had one good games and two forgettable ones against the Jazz.
- It appears that only I am unfriendly towards Richard Jefferson, who is perfect in the W/L column, but has yet to score a point on the team that owes him so much.
- Josh Howard is in the same boat, in terms of if I like him or not. Didn't get to play against the Jazz, still managed to steal nearly 1k minutes from the development of Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks back during the height of our "Rent-A-Vets" days.
- I had no problem with the witty and urbane John Amaechi. Lots of Jazz fans did (for a variety of reasons). He traded to the Houston Rockets, but never played another game against the Jazz. I do know quite a few who wanted to boo him . . .
Revenge happens through individual success and team success. Some of these players got it. Some of these players didn't deserve it. And others futilely stab at hidden demons to this day. Kanter got a lot of boos, because you know, recency bias. By trading him the Jazz got better as a team. He got an opportunity to put up big numbers in a contract year. And his performance, a solid one on offense, last night made the game so much better. After one game he's up there with the likes of Karl Malone and Paul Millsap in terms of individual success against the Jazz. But in the end it could be like Al Jefferson against the Celtics -- he may drift always towards bad teams that have money to spend on high scoring / rebounding bigs who don't play defense, and it may take him years and years to finally beat the Utah Jazz.
Hate Kanter all you want, but at least know that despite what he says or how he acts, inside the boos did get to him, and even deeper inside he'll never forget his first years as a pro in Utah. The good and the bad, even if over the last 48 hours he only talked about how frustrated he was.