“Didn’t you ask for them strawberries first?”
As a child with all of five years under my belt, you can imagine my surprise and awe when I turned around to see who had so politely reminded Bill at 8th Avenue Grocery (may its memory rest in peace) that my mother had, in fact, ordered the case of berries first. And despite the fact that the grocer had handed them to the newly minted All-NBA Second Defense Team standout from Louisiana Tech, who could have just as easily walked to the register and on with his life, Karl Malone reprimanded the store’s manager with a smile and handed the fruit to my astonished mother while she and I craned our necks and gaped, soaking in the moment.
The guy may have been a little green in terms of games played, but we knew we were in the presence of someone great. And he didn’t mind making sure that manners were observed, and that he wasn’t above anybody else waiting in line for strawberries. Well, maybe physically. But you get the point.
And that point has stuck with me ever since then. As I’ve watched the league erupt into a preening show for primadonnas, both players and brass, there has been one constant force on the hardwood that has stuck with being classy. They hang on to coaching staff when they make the playoffs instead of cleaning house because a team didn’t bring home any hardware. They groom players into all-stars instead of showering money onto already platinum-plated runner-ups. They push fundamentals and hard work. They’re the Utah Jazz, and everybody in the country knows that they do one thing and do it well.
They play basketball.
Since I’ve moved out to Newark, New Jersey, for law school (go Pirates), I’ve had everybody who finds out I’m from Utah ask me two things: (1) how many moms do you have, and (2) am I a Jazz fan. The answers, respectively, are (1) one, you jackass, and (2) can’t you see the jersey, hat, jacket, and keychain? I’m this close to getting a Stockton tattoo on my forehead just to make it slightly clearer.
But the Jazz thing always opens up a conversation I never get tired of. How long is Sloan sticking around?* Do you really think Jordan pushed off?** How good is Deron Williams?*** Think you can take the Lake-show down this year?**** Everybody knows our system, and they all respect it. The people I’m meeting now range from wealthy wide-eyed college grads to struggling 30-year men that work on the PATH train, and they share one thought with me. There’s not enough old-school tenacity or grit in the NBA, especially at MSG or The Rock. And, further, there’s a particularly dire lack of respect and loyalty running rampant through the country, which is exemplified by the shining temple of self-centeredness that is the NBA.
But, and there’s always the same but, it doesn’t seem like that in Utah.
Sloan’s still around. Deron’s still around. AK (for the time being) is still around. Raja’s back. LHM may be gone (another man and memory I hope is enjoying a well-deserved rest), but his family is carrying the torch of Jazz hoops in a manner that should make him smile, wherever he is. We’re in the playoffs every year, and when our offense is clicking it’s the most beautiful thing to witness in sports. That beauty is rooted in simplicity and efficiency, and Jerry’s Kids have known it for twentysomething years.
Folks out here, just like back home in the land of Deseret, know that we have our problems. But that doesn’t stop me from selling them on an important point. I’m not trying to push people to abandon the Knicks, Sixers, Magic, or whoever they’ve grown up loving. But, just like Jazz fans, they all hate the Lakers and don’t have a real favorite out West. I figure this is the real reason I’m out here; not so much to learn the law, but to educate the masses on the perpetual W machine on 300 West. And they’re receptive to it.
I figure a lot of people trying out for this job want free seats to some games while having a public outlet to blab about stats and complain about inconsequential things. No doubt they have the same level of passion about the team that I do. But I figure I’ve got slightly different perspective from several of the other tryers-out. I’m selling the Jazz to a bunch of big-market fans, and I’m doing a pretty good job. Writing for the Jazzbots would have its perks in terms of swag, but really I want to have a connection with fans all over the country and keep a lifeline to the team itself (and its stalwarts) in Salt Lake. My goal as a Jazzbot is to talk about the organization in a big-picture sense; I like rattling off numbers as much as the next guy or gal, but I also believe in the short (pun intended) lesson my post-toddler self learned from Number 32 two and a half decades ago. Even though the Jazz might be a group of astronomical talent (with bankrolls to match), they’re still essentially people who happen to play great basketball. And they know it.
That humility (along with a few other reasons) is what I’ve always loved about the Jazz. It’s what my new friends in North Jersey love about the Jazz. And it’s what I want to keep as my touchstone when I talk with you as the cowhide globe floats home.
**Hell yes, I think he pushed off. Are you blind?
***First, it’s DARE-in, not Da-RON. Second, well-made jambalaya is good. The clam chowder at Market Street is good. Deron Williams is a freak of nature, like lightning striking twice, except he strikes constantly for 40 minutes about 100 times a year. He’s not good. He’s perfect.
****I don’t think. I know.
author's note: this was my original submission to be considered for a blogger at utahjazz360.com as a "jazzbot." because i couldn't show up personally for my interview at ESA, it was conducted over the phone. i alternated from whispered answers as i ran out of the library and then was winded (that 50-yard dash was tough!) for the next few minutes. keeping in line with my generation's propensity toward entitlement-fed narcissism, my responses to the interviewers' questions basically filled them in on how awesome i think i am and what great insights i'd have regarding the team and jazz/nba culture.
not surprisingly, i was not selected. but something tells me this unofficial jazz booster club is as conservative and anti-northeast as the rest of utah's elite - including jim matheson - which doesn't really bother me. the shoe fits, so i'm not going to complain when people wear it. but i have to figure there are deron williams/jazz/nba fans who remember when they fell in love with a team enough to have it literally overtake the rest of their life, who love punk rock music, who wish the midwestern/mountain west states could proportion their electoral votes, who love new york/new jersey, and/or are fans of education generally. thus, to satisfy these four people across the country - i'm looking at you, greg hetson - my foray continues.