Sunday, February 13, 2011

did you really?

i used to be a big pennywise fan. generally i'm not so much these days, but occasionally it fits my mood nicely.

it's been about 72 hours since the sloan/johnson press conference, and things still aren't really any clearer for me. one thing that has gotten clearer is that something is gone and will never come back, even if corbin stays on for 30 years and wins a dozen championships, pushing flex offense and rebounding along the way. but even if it doesn't come back, i'm starting to get excited about something strangely familiar.


one of the reasons i tried out for the jazzbots job in the first place (that failure turned into this blog) was to chronicle what it's been like for me as a semi-returning jazz fan. see, i grew up with my family watching jazz games from my parents' season-ticket, row 25 baseline seats at the salt palace. but when the team moved to the delta center, apparently the ticket prices increased pretty dramatically because my dad decided it was getting too pricey.

we still watched games as a family on the tube, and made it to games at the delta center from time to time. i had the good fortune of being friends with this kid nick who lived up the street; his family owned a pretty successful utah business and one of the things their hard work afforded them was a suite and fantastic seats courtside. going to those games, as a kid of 8 or 9 years old, was incredible.

i remember the first time i got to sit in those seats. i couldn't understand why people said stockton was short; he was at least two inches taller than my old man. watching jeff malone's fade-away jumper in person felt like watching rembrandt painting. and karl; karl was just a beast. but i already knew that, for all his power and intimidation, he was still a nice guy.

but eventually nick's family moved and going to games became pretty rare. the TV stayed on, though, and some of my favorite memories of childhood involve watching jazz playoff games on our back porch on my dad's old RCA set that had analog dials, one that went from channel 2-UHF, and the UHF dial that went from 14 to 40-something. it had fake wood paneling on the sides, rabbit-ear antennae, and a single mono speaker. i bet it was the first color tv my parents owned.

i remember the agony of watching clyde drexler hand-deliver losses to the jazz, dekembe's finger wagging, shawn kemp's dominance. i remember screaming, with my brothers and their friends, who maybe understood the game better but certainly loved the team no more than me, as the blood rushed into our vision when sir chuck peeked into the huddle, only to have our rage turn to ecstasy when number 12 hit that three pointer; as he jumped into the air, higher than i had before or have since seen a man jump, his fist smashing the years of disappointment.

karl malone and hornacek running to embrace him.

and a man, who had been a god made of stone, finally smiling. sprinting , elated, towards what would become the defining moment of his coaching history.


around the time the jazz lost those two finals rounds to michael, i started racing mountain bikes in the summer and wrestling in the winter (it turns out that i can't jump, and my little league batting average was about the same as my bowling score - i'm lucky to break 100). i had also discovered two bands, nofx and face to face, that completely changed my perspective on music and life. between my new one-man sports and that inexplicably consuming pubescent embrace of a shiny, new counter-culture viewpoint. me and team sports, we didn't just split ways. my passion for bicycles and punk rock was only matched in intensity by my hatred for mass-market sports, exemplified perfectly as an icon of selfishness in the NBA. vindication came when patrick ewing was traded to seattle, when jordan came back for washington, and most sweetly when malone left for LA.

but, like children tend to do, i grew up. i quit wrestling my sophomore year of high school to focus on training for cross-country mountain bike racing full time. then i raced and lived downhill bikes for a while, and that turned into riding moto. somewhere in there, i had met new people who introduced me to more new people, and before i knew it, i was watching football at the cell block every sunday and even, frustratingly, playoff baseball (though i've always loved going to trappers/buzz/stingers/bees games).

i swore i would never go back to basketball. between dick bevetta and jordan, karl's benedict arnolding all of us, and the seemingly bleak future featuring only a small forward from russia who had been glorified for doing something called a 5x5 twice in one season, there simply was nothing about the jazz that made me want to come back to them. i pictured myself crawling on hands and knees, my pride finally broken. i swore it would never happen.

somewhere along the line, my friend collin (who had been a serious jazz and NBA fan since he was a toddler) got me to start watching the jazz again. he explained to me how the jazz brass had thought seriously about what the franchise needed, and after consulting with a new-grey coach, they had drafted a promising young point guard from illinois.

a couple of years later, the jazz were back in the western conference finals. when derek fisher signed with LA less than a month later, i was one of the guys holding a torch and a machete in the mob seeking justice for an unforgivable and deeply personal betrayal.


i intended to write this blog as an emotional outlet primarily, and it has quickly turned into part news, part reactionary, part number-crunching (which i swore i would avoid). but sloan and johnson resigning this week reminded me of what i had meant to do with my writing: to keep track of my thoughts as i try to improve as a fan while i'm still stuck in new jersey, a three-day drive from seeing the team i love on its home court, and virtually no shoulders to cry on after a tough loss, other than those i've been able to sway.

the strange realization of the last few hours has been that, like it or not, every jazz fan now is stuck doing what i've been doing for the last five or six years. all of us now have to re-evaluate how we feel about a team that has shed its last vestiges of what we started loving. stockton-malone-hornacek. larry. jarron and matt. and, finally, fittingly, sloan and johnson have exited together, leaving nothing left of the brilliance and hope that shone so brightly 15 years ago. the only trace of the past remaining is that lanky russian, whose career comfortingly and maddeningly overlaps between Then and Now.

i hate myself for questioning deron's role in sloan's departure; if he leaves, picking up the pieces will be a long and ugly process. i hate myself for pitying a future jazz organization that didn't stand up to deron if he did have something, anything to do with jerry and phil leaving besides being in the locker room. but i know that i've already hated my relationship with the jazz, and i came back from it stronger. i don't miss games now. i know stats, i know where people live, i know where people played college ball, i know who can't rotate on D, i know who should be taking clutch shots, i know what traded and free agent players we wish were still wearing the j-note.

the only silver lining, if there is one, from thursday's events is that i know i've already lost the jazz once, and it only made things better in the long run. now we've all lost the team again.

i know it sounds corny, but i can't wait to fall in love, deeply and childishly, with this team again.

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