So you're telling me there's a chance." — Lloyd Christmas
As the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets approach Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, it's looking more like 1984 all over again. Wouldn't you know that Adrian Dantley is back in the middle of it, this time on the other bench, underneath his own retired jersey.
Dantley — the man who once led the Jazz over the Nuggets in a seminal playoff series for the Jazz franchise; the man who carried the Jazz for seven years and never knew a shot he didn't like; the man who had to wait a couple of decades to get his Jazz jersey placed in the rafters because he lacks tact and social skills; the man who once applied for Sloan's job in the middle of his jersey-retirement ceremony, putting his tact on full display.
And now he returns to Salt Lake City as interim coach of the Nuggets while head coach George Karl undergoes cancer treatment, and the series is following part of the script from that first playoff meeting.
In 1984, with the Jazz trailing the Nuggets 2-1 heading into Game 4 in Denver that year, a Denver columnist famously wrote, "The Jazz are done. Stick a fork in them." He's never heard the end of it (as evidenced by this column).
It was the first playoff appearance in the history of the Jazz franchise, and Dantley, their small forward, responded with 39 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals to lead the Jazz to a five-point win. The Jazz won Game 5 and the series, as well.
So here we are again. The Jazz lost Game 1, and the tenor among the media was similar, if not understandable: The Jazz are done, stick a fork in them. It was a difficult point to argue, what with Mehmet Okur going down with an Achilles injury in Game 1 and Andre Kirilenko already sidelined with a calf injury. In their place, the Jazz sent onto the floor a couple of big, lumbering big men — Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos —whose names will never appear in the same sentence as the word "athletic."
The Jazz were given the last rites — talk about dumb and dumber — and history repeated itself. The Jazz the next game in Denver, a la '84.
Remove the fork.
This time around, Game 3 is in Salt Lake City, and it won't be without its weird undercurrents.
Almost precisely three years ago, Dantley returned to Salt Lake City to have his jersey retired, an honor that was debated publicly and privately for years before it was accomplished. Other Jazz players who played long after Dantley left the team saw their jerseys retired well before Dantley received the honor — John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, Darrell Griffith, Mark Eaton and Karl Malone. Dantley's statistics were superior to most of those who had jerseys retired, especially his 29.6-point scoring average during his seven years in Utah, but he had to wait 21 years for his turn.
What gives? Dantley was so impolitic as to diss Larry Miller, the Jazz's hands-on owner, and ingratiated himself with very few (you can decide if any of that matters). As Deseret News columnist Brad Rock told it three years ago, "There was Dantley's holdout. Also, there was the account of Dantley telling Karl Malone not to sacrifice his body diving for loose balls. And the story of Layden chewing out Malone for missing key free throws and Dantley interfering.
"There was also a tale of Dantley turning his back on Miller one night, which precipitated the feud. But Miller corrected that, saying it was actually in Phoenix, the night Layden sent Dantley home from a road trip. Miller said Dantley had turned his back to unwrap the tape from his wrists and when Layden told him to turn around and show some respect, Dantley said, "You don't respect me, so why should I respect you?"
Dantley, who never had much to say, gave a windy, undiplomatic acceptance speech on the occasion of his jersey retirement in 2007 and it came up short of gracious. After finishing his speech, he made a curious aside to the Jazz, noting that Sloan and Johnson wouldn't always be around forever and they'd need a coach and to please give him a call when the time comes. In essence, he applied for Sloan's job in front of 20,000 people, including the Jazz coaches.
It was like asking for the boss's job your first day at work after telling him he was too old. It was vintage Dantley, and it did not go over well with the Jazz brass. The Bear mascot will have a better chance of replacing Jerry Sloan than Dantley.
On Friday night, Dantley, the Jazz, Sloan and the Nuggets will resume their playoff drama once again.