Oh no, you didn’t, Utah Jazz.
You didn’t just almost go and make me start caring about you all over again.
Although I’ve been vaguely aware that there is still an NBA franchise in the state, it’s been a number of years since I allowed myself to feel any emotional attachment to the team. Nineteen years, to be exact.
It wasn’t always like this. Since junior high, I’d been a rabid fan of Utah’s professional basketball teams, with a lifetime of memories to show for it:
• Stashed in a box in a closet somewhere is an old program from a Utah Stars ABA game. (Remember the red, white and blue basketballs?)
• When I was 14 years old, one of the Stars’ basketball stars — Willie Wise, if memory serves — lived just up the street. My friends and I would dare each other to knock on his door and ask for an autograph.
• I still vividly remember the distinctive delivery of Adrian Dantley’s “Go with the pros — Tracy-Collins Bank and Trust” line from the television commercials.
• Although it was a rare treat to see a Jazz game in person, I have plenty of happy memories watching them on TV. Or listening to them on the radio. And who can forget the play-by-play of longtime voice of the Utah Jazz “Hot Rod” Hundley and his hippity-hop, top-of-the-key, leap-n-lean, frozen-rope, from-the-parking-lot, good-if-it-goes, nothing-but-net commentary. I miss his oft-repeated “Stockton to Malone!” The satisfying feeling of hearing “It looks like this one is in the old refrigerator.” And even the somewhat clunky “With a gentle push and a mild arc, the cowhide globe hits home.” You gotta love it, baby!
• Karl Malone. John Stockton. Mark Eaton. Jeff Hornacek. Darrell Griffith. Rickey Green. The list goes on. Not to mention some of the best coaches in the business, from Frank Layden’s everyman humor to Jerry Sloan’s everyman work ethic.
• Even the late, great Jazz owner Larry H. Miller’s Mormon-conflicted playoff ritual of standing in the tunnel during Sunday playoff games — because that’s technically not attending a sporting event on the Sabbath — seemed somehow strangely endearing.
And then came June 14, 1998. The day the music died. At least for this fan of Jazz.
Y’all know the story: Utah had played for the NBA championship the year before, but lost in six games to Michael Jordan and some other guys in matching Chicago Bulls uniforms. However, this time around, things would be different. Not only did the Jazz have home-court advantage, they’d already beaten Michael and the Jordanaires in their two regular-season meetings that season.
Finally, it was Our Year. Or so we thought.
Then came Game 6, MJ’s “miracle” game, wherein he overcame some sort of mysterious illness to defeat the Jazz and win the series. Of course, over the years the legend has grown from Jordan having a moderate case of the flu, to Jordan having severe food poisoning orchestrated by Utah government officials, to Jordan playing from the confines of a hospital bed, to Jordan being — quite literally — deceased. (“Remember the year Michael Jordan came back from his own funeral to drop 45 points on the Jazz and win his last championship?”)
Besides, not that it matters, but everybody outside of Illinois knows that Jordan got away with one when he clearly pushed off on Bryon Russell for the winning shot.
That was the last time I gave my heart to the Utah Jazz. Oh, I’m happy to hear of their victories, and I feel bad when they lose. But I simply haven’t been able to let myself become invested in the team again.
And now this: The Jazz have made it to the second round, and they did it in typical there-is-no-“I”-in-team fashion. I’m tempted to jump back on the bandwagon, I really am. But then I remember their next opponent, and how oddsmakers have placed Utah’s chances of beating the Golden State Warriors at somewhere between teaching a badger to square dance and getting a Republican voter to admit they’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake.
Although, who knows? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.
Like, I heard Michael Jordan once won an NBA championship as a legally blind quadriplegic.