Did Jazz fans who loved Wes Matthews start loving Blazers?

Jan 16 2014 - 6:01am


Perhaps this is just a misguided notion rattling around in my big bald noggin, but I'm convinced a great many of you have a dual fanship thing going.

You're Utah Jazz fans, certainly, and Portland Trail Blazers fans, additionally.

I figure this all stems from the fact former Weber State star Damian Lillard was drafted by the Blazers in 2012 and won the NBA's Rookie of the Year award last season. That fact alone all but guarantees there are a whole bunch of Portland fans in the Top of Utah. I know this because I've seen you walking around with Lillard jerseys and T-shirts; and because I've heard you loud and clear when the Blazers have visited EnergySolutions Arena.

But in addition to the Lillard tie-in, there are three well-liked former Jazz players on Portland's roster: Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Wesley Matthews.

Matthews was a fan favorite right from the start. He went to rookie camp with the Jazz and played on their summer league team prior to the start of the 2009-10 season. They brought him back for training camp that fall and he impressed them so much he made the team as an undrafted rookie.

"He's played hard and he seems to have a little toughness," then-coach Jerry Sloan said of Matthews in October of that year.

Straightforward as they were, those words, for Sloan, were akin to a Shakespearian love sonnet. And by the end of the season Jazz fans understood the sentiment. Matthews played all 82 games that year, starting 48 of them. He averaged better than 13 points and shot a career-best 48 percent from the field.

But he became a restricted free agent at the end of the season and the Blazers signed him to a $32 million offer sheet, which the Jazz declined to match. They wanted to keep him but felt they couldn't afford to, so they let him walk.

Everything is relative, of course, but I'm sure they regret letting him go. Who knows where they'd be today if they'd kept him?

Even so, he remains well thought of here in Utah - by fans, media and people employed by the Jazz - which is why a story out of Portland caught my attention earlier this week.

Matthews was named after his father, Wesley Matthews Sr., a former college star at Wisconsin and a journeyman in the NBA during the 1980s. Predictably, as the younger Matthews began to carve out a career of his own here in Utah, he was asked about his relationship with his dad. I remember he was always respectful but somewhat distant when those questions arose. At some point I became aware there wasn't much of a relationship.

The elder Matthews wasn't really in his son's life much. Wesley Jr. grew up in Madison, Wis. and lived in his father's shadow, often hearing about his dad's greatness. But Wesley Sr. left his family when his son was still very young, leaving Wesley Jr. to be raised by his mother, Pam, whom he adored.

He spoke about his upbringing in a poignant piece published by Comcast SportsNet Northwest.

"I mean, he's the man in Wisconsin," he told reporter Chris Haynes. "I'm carrying his name and I knew nothing about him other than that everybody else around me loved him. And I'm having the toughest time trying to figure out why the hell he's not around."

The younger Matthews said he doesn't know why his father left and hasn't asked because, frankly, it doesn't matter: his dad wasn't in his life and he should have been. But he also said there is a relationship now that didn't exist before and it's gradually improving.

"Through how I grew up, I learned what not to do," he said. "And that's not a complete knock on him. Stuff like that happens all the time to people. For whatever reason, he wasn't around. We're cool now. No hard feelings and God works in mysterious ways. I don't know if I'm where I'm at right now if he was around. So, you never know."

I got to know Wesley Jr. a little bit during his one season with the Jazz and I grew to appreciate his personality, his toughness and the maturity he had as a 23-year-old. Selfishly, I wish he still played here.

Now 27, he's doing great things in Portland alongside Lillard and those other former Jazzmen. He doesn't have children of his own but I hope someday he will. After all, the world needs good fathers and I have no doubt he'll make a great one.


Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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