Image by ClutchPoints
By Mark Milligan Jr.
Sept 24, 2018
This one is specifically for all the old-school Jazz fans. You know who you are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “I use to be a big fan, but after John and Karl retired…” It’s ok, I get it. I’m old enough to remember wondering what the NBA would be like without hating Michael Jordan and not knowing what to expect from my home team without hearing “Stockton to Malone!”
So, no, I’m not judging you for bailing ship. In fact, those between-era seasons were a bit rough, even for the most obsessed fans. We still had some players that would eventually become memorable favorites, such as Matt Harpring and Andre Kirilenko, but the two hall-of-famers that had come to define the Utah Jazz were now gone. In their place, players like Carlos Arroyo, Gordan Giricek, and Jarron Collins. Certainly, I mean no offense. In fact, that team went 42-40 in our first season of the post-Stockton/Malone era. That’s an impressive feat for any team that just lost two All-Stars at the same time. Still, despite winning more than half of their games, the effort left the team just shy of the playoffs, and to a fan-base that had been spoiled by two straight decades of postseason competition, it simply wasn’t the same.
The next season didn’t help. In fact, it was arguably the worst season we witnessed under Coach Sloan. Scraping together a mere 26 wins, the highlight was that we were only the worst team in the Western Conference, not the entire league (that honor going to the New Orleans Hornets in the East).
So like I wrote above, I’m not judging anyone for losing interest, but A LOT has happened since that beloved era! Bear with me for this next part. It’s going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you, because I fully realize the awesomeness of everything you’ve missed out on.
You’ve missed “the Moneyman” Mehmet Okur, shimmying down the court after hitting one of his patented clutch threes against the Kobe-led Lakers. You missed Deron Williams charging coast to coast for a game-winning layup against a Lebron-led Cavs team (among many of his other game-winners). You missed a true miracle in Miami that solidified Paul Millsap as a Jazzman for life. You missed Houston fans cursing our team time and again as we foiled Tracy McGrady’s promise to take the Rockets to the second round of the playoffs. (Yes, this was after John Stockton broke their hearts by sending the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals, so Houston doesn’t like us very much.) You missed years of UVU’s very own Ronnie Price leaping out of the gym, a giant goofball in Kyrylo Fesenko going toe to toe with guys like Shaq and Yao Ming, and Kyle Korver hitting a clutch behind-the-backboard jumper to give a kid on a 10-day contract, Sundiata Gaines, the opportunity to live out every kid’s dream of hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Lebron James and the Cavs!
You’ve missed André Kirilenko leading the league in blocked shots, Jeremy Evans winning the Dunk Contest, the magic athleticism of Alec Burks, and a conservative player like Derrick Favors get angry with the occasional beastly dunk over an unsuspecting defender. You’ve missed the emergence of undrafted diamonds like Wesley Matthews, DeMarre Carroll, Joe Ingles, and more recently, Royce O’Neale.
While you’ve been gone, the Utah Jazz made it to the Western Conference Finals, Deron Williams and Chris Paul battled for years as the best point guards in the NBA, and Joe Johnson stole a HUGE road win against the star-studded L.A. Clippers in the 2016-17 playoffs, ultimately leading to a game 7 victory in L.A.!
This recent season alone you’ve missed the perfectly timed and historic rookie season of Utah’s new bright star, Donovan Mitchell. You missed Rudy Gobert, our best center since Mark Eaton (a defensive-minded player in a small market) earn the respect of the NBA by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award. Speaking of Gobert’s value, it was highlighted in a dramatic turnaround like no team has ever seen! A deadly mix of having lost Gordon Hayward, adding a talented-but-learning Ricky Rubio, and two injuries that had Gobert sidelined for the majority the the first half of the season, all caused the Jazz to start off to an abysmal 19-28. But it was only a setup for the revival. Suddenly, Rudy Gobert was healthy, Rubio figured out Quinn’s system, and Dennis Lindsey traded away the few remaining negative players and brought in Jae Crowder to fill in. The result was a team that miraculously reached a 48-34 record, placing them 5th in the playoffs, and sending Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and the rest of the Thunder home after round one. And in case you missed this as well, John Stockton’s son, David, wearing the Jazz note on his jersey, followed in his old man’s footsteps, stealing the ball, laying it up, and dropping threes to the roar of a nostalgic arena.
It’s a new generation, with new coaches and new players, but the Jazz are still as “Utah” as they have ever been. Honestly, it’s a shame that you’ve missed out on the last 15 years, at least a generation or two of lovable and loyal players, dramatic storylines, athletic highlights, the highs and lows, ups, downs, and sideways of passion and entertainment that an entire state can cheer and cry for. No matter if you bleed blue, red, purple or rainbow with other sports teams, you are a member of the Utah Jazz family and, as unfortunate as it is that you’ve missed out on so much, it’s small compared to what Jazz fans are about to witness over the next couple of seasons. As we enter the 40th anniversary of the Jazz coming to our great state, we are once again playing with the best of the league, many believing Utah is on the verge of a championship run within the next couple of years. I invite you to be a part of it, because if there was ever be a time to jump back on the Utah Jazz bandwagon, it’s RIGHT NOW! Don’t miss another moment!