The Utah Jazz. Tell me now, is this a name that makes ANY sense?! Yeah, these guys are right up there with the Los Angeles Lakers in terms of names that are kept for some poor reason after a move that makes otherwise awesome names into nonsensical, irrelevant relics of a past which very few of these teams have any desire to keep. The Lakers name once made perfect sense - when they started up, they were the Minneapolis Lakers. And keeping in that tradition, at one time the Jazz name made sense too. When the Jazz were first berthed into being in 1974, they were born in the very city whose greatest export was the uniquely American and influential style of music it was born in: New Orleans.
The Jazz started up in New Orleans that year and were the 18th team in the NBA. Their first big move was a smart one: Looking to fire up basketball fans in The Big Easy, the Jazz traded two first round draft picks, three second round draft picks, and one third round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Pete Maravich, a local hero who had dominated the record books during his college days at LSU. It paid off somewhat. In 1977, Maravich was the league scoring champion with 31.1 points per game. Sadly, though, one man does not a team make, and without a ton of support, Maravich's efforts resulted in the Jazz's best record during their short stay in New Orleans was 39-43, in the 1978 season. Even worse, after that season and onward, Maravich would only play a couple more years of professional basketball because his knees started to snap under him.
Really, for everything NBA watchers say about traditions and proper names, the Jazz were one of the most unsuccessful teams in the league during their first few years. Finding a decent venue was always a big problem for the Jazz. In their first season, they played in the Loyola University Fieldhouse, where the court was on such a raised level that the team had to place nets around it so that players wouldn't fall off the court and into the stands. Later, they took up residence in the Superdome, but high demand for the stadium created a ton of lease problems, and Mardi Gras forced the team on the road for a full month at once due to festivities. Years later, founding owner Sam Battisone admitted there was no contingency plan if the Jazz ever got good enough to make the playoffs, so their consistently bad performances turned out to be a blessing disguise. It took all of five years for the New Orleans Jazz to be dead in the water, and Battisone reached the conclusion that the Jazz couldn't stay in New Orleans.
In 1976, the Jazz traded their first round pick in the 1979 draft to the Lakers in order to get their hands on Gail Goodrich. As a final humiliation, that gave the Lakers the first overall pick that year, and they used it to select Magic Johnson.
Battisone made an unusual choice my moving the team to Salt Lake City, because it was a considerably smaller market. Since the approval date was late and the team poorly marketed in Salt Lake City, the team's attendance actually declined again. In 1979, the team brought in perennial All-Star Adrian Dantley and waived Maravich. In 1980, they picked Darrell Griffith in the draft. Despite that firepower, the Jazz still couldn't break 30 victories in a season. In 1982, the Jazz waited eagerly for their turn in the draft to come. They had their hearts set on either James Worthy or Terry Cummings, but those players ended up being taken by the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. With them off the board, the Jazz settled on Dominique Wilkins. Unfortunately, the Jazz were still having financial troubles, and Wilkins was clear as crystal about his lack of desire to play in Utah. So they sent him to the Atlanta Hawks for John Drew and Freeman Williams. Freeman and Williams played a collective total of four seasons for Utah while Wilkins thrilled Hawks fans in a Hall of Fame run. Even considering the circumstances, this was still one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
By the 1984 season, the team was bleeding so badly that it was using stunts to try to gain some kind of traction. They even played a game here and there in Las Vegas in order to try to alleviate their misfortunes. On the court, though, the team finally started playing decently. Led by Adrian Dantley, Jeff Wilkins, Thurl Bailey, Mark Eaton, Rich Kelley, Rickey Green, Darrell Griffith, and John Drew, the Jazz finally posted a winner. They went 45-37, won their division, punched their playoff tickets, and beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round before falling to the Phoenix Suns. The NBA had THE DRAFT that year too, because it was 1984 and that year's draft changed the whole league. After they made their selection, the Jazz fans at the draft party lustily hit the boo buttons. The Jazz had taken an unknown Gonzaga guard named John Stockton.
The next season, the team's perennial misfortunes were finally somewhat stable. In the 1985 draft, the team selected Karl Malone, also known as The Mailman, because he delivered! Well, at least to a point he delivered. In his later years, he became one of the known choke artists of the NBA, and some of his nastier critics nicknamed him Mail Fraud. The remainder of the 80's brought the Jazz to respectability. They went on a run of 40-win seasons and, despite getting generally being stuck in first round playoff purgatory, proved they weren't schedule write-offs anymore.
After the first 17 games of the 1989 season, head coach Frank Layden stepped down and was replaced by Jerry Sloan. Upon the replacement, the Jazz improved immediately. Malone, Stockton, and Mark Eaton were All-Stars. By the early 90's, they were real contenders. In 1992, they stood on the brink of their first conference title when they went 55-27 and paid a visit to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the deeper Portland Trail Blazers 4-2. 1994 brought them back to the conference finals, but they lost that year to the Houston Rockets. The following season, the Jazz made the 60-win barrier, going 60-22 and making it to the Western Conference Finals again, only to lose, again, to the Rockets. The following year, they again went 60-22 and lost to Houston in the playoffs, but this time it was in the first round! In the 1996 season, the Jazz once again returned to the Western Conference Finals, and were fortunate enough to not have to face down the Houston Rockets again. So that year, they lost to the Seattle Supersonics.
In the 1997 season, the Jazz posted the best record in their history so far: An amazing 64-18. After capitalizing on creampuff playoff competition in the form of the Clippers and Lakers, the Jazz finally came out on top of the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and were vaulted into the NBA Finals for the first time. Unfortunately, Karl Malone began struggling in particular areas of his game during the Finals. Also, they were playing against the Chicago Bulls, and I don't have to reiterate how the Bulls in those days took advantage of every weakness anyone else had. Utah lost 4-2. They returned to the Finals the following season and faced the Bulls again. By now, the Bulls were an aging core of players who weren't capable of running circles around the league the way they used to. Still, they managed to polish off their mighty 90's dynasty with one last 4-2 Finals victory against the Jazz, because Malone was struggling with a few of his fundamentals again. Those Finals might have been winnable had Malone been a little better, but as it was, he was yet another stamp on the chart for Michael and the Jordanaires.
That was the zenith for the Utah Jazz. They continued to perform well into the early millennium, but their Championship window was closed for good. Stockton retired after the 2003 season, and Malone did the thing that near-retirement greats who haven't yet won Championships often do: He left in free agency to sign with a good, powerful team for one year in a last-ditch effort to get that elusive ring. Malone's last tour was in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and a Gary Payton who had signed with the Lakers for the same reason Malone did. They came close, but were upended in the Finals by a very surprising and very underpowered Detroit Pistons team that shocked the NBA that year.
The Jazz had no foundation going into the 2004 season, but they still managed to pull out 42 wins. That year saw the emergence of several nonentity players rising up from the Stockton/Malone shadow and showing their own worth as NBA players. Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, and Carlos Arroyo, instead of panicking over the loss of the team's longtime keystones, saw the year as an opportunity to carve their own niches, and they did a good job of it even though they missed the playoffs by one game. They regressed the following season, though, going 26-56 due in large part to injuries. In 2005, the team selected Deron Williams with the third overall draft pick. Williams kept the Jazz playing at a high level until he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in 2011 (when they were still the New Jersey Nets). The team is currently trying to implode and rebuild - not because they were bad over the millennium, but I guess because they believed Deron Williams had led them to the best they could be with him and wanted to go in a different direction.
Pete Maravich is a Hall of Famer from the New Orleans Jazz. His number is in the retirement of both the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Hornets, the team New Orleans heisted from Charlotte. He's joined by Adrian Dantley, John Stockton, and Karl Malone as players and Jerry Sloan as a coach. The Jazz have retired nine numbers: Maravich, Malone, Stockton, Dantley, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, and Jeff Hornacek are retired as players and going with coach Frank Layden and owner Larry H. Miller. Broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley also received both honors.
Aside from them, the Jazz are surprisingly short on transcendent talent. They seem to be split into three separate eras, and that doesn't even count the New Orleans days. The first is the Adrian Dantley/Darrell Griffith era. Second is the defining time of the Utah Jazz, with Stockton and Malone. Third is Deron Williams. Their only defining player from New Orleans is Maravich, and everyone I just mentioned in these last two paragraphs covers about 80 percent of the talent with the Jazz that has ever received any acclaim.
The Jazz/whomever rivalry isn't exactly a marquee rivalry in the NBA. Actually, opinions tend to differ on just who should be considered a proper rival to Utah. I would personally throw my vote in Houston's corner, because the two teams have a rich playoff history against each other. Houston's NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 both came with them having to dispose of the Jazz in the playoffs, and Utah returned the favor during both of their Conference Championship years. The Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and San Antonio Spurs have strong cases behind them too. The team's identity is based strongly in its poor history of playoff performance. The Utah Jazz choke a lot. Karl Malone exemplified that - in the regular season, he was dominant. He won two MVP awards, and they don't give the MVP to nobodies. But Malone would get into the playoffs and just plain suck at one important aspect of his game. If it wasn't one, it was another.
If you're adopting this team based on their onetime existence as the New Orleans Jazz, just don't. Go find another team, because their time in New Orleans lasted for five years which were all defined by instability and suckitude. Even the Los Angeles Clippers had a better run than that back during the eight years when they were the Buffalo Braves! However, the Utah Jazz is known for having THE most fervent and ridiculously devoted, knowledgable, and passionate fans in the NBA. Jayson Williams concluded that their Mormon faith keeps them mild in most of their everyday lives, so they let everything out during Jazz games. It helps that their team is so consistent and deep and respectable. Despite their choker identity, there's little about Jazz fandom to be ashamed of.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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