Utah Jazz: Roots of Utah's team planted in New Orleans
Hot Rod Hundley has had call for Jazz games from Day 1
Deseret News archives
Utah Jazz fans are very familiar with Hot Rod Hundley's pet name for the long shot, "from the parking lot."
Most longtime Utah fans know it as the call Hundley used for those Darrell Griffith bombs.
But before the words fit Griffith's lengthy rainbows, Hundley used them to describe Aaron James' jumpers in 1974-75, the first year of the Jazz franchise in New Orleans.
James was a second-round New Orleans Jazz draft pick from Grambling, and it was before the NBA adopted the 3-point shot. But Hundley, the radio voice of the Jazz all these years, recalls, "He would have buried them from back there" if he'd had a 3-point shot then. "He could really shoot it deep.
"When he'd take a shot, I'd say, 'A.J. from the parking lot,"' said Hundley, reminiscing about that first Jazz season.
"A.J. would fire from so far out, I couldn't believe it. He was out in the parking lot.
"They made T-shirts up like that. They parked cars out in the parking lot, with A.J. shooting above it, elevated in the center of a basketball crowd, and he's got the shot going, and it says, 'A.J. from the parking lot."'
"There's a lot of memories," agrees David Fredman, back with the Jazz again as their chief college scout after a time in the front offices of the Denver Nuggets and the D-League Utah Flash. "A lot of them good, and a lot not so good."
Fredman joined the Jazz in their first year of existence as what he calls a "go-fer." In today's terms, he'd have been an intern, still a college student. He told Bill Bertka, then the team's president of basketball operations, that he'd do anything to get into pro sports, and Bertka liked his attitude.
Bertka had also lured his friend Hundley to New Orleans with more money than Hundley was making as an on-the-air analyst for the Phoenix Suns. Hundley took the job without ever having been to New Orleans, then had second thoughts as his cabbie refused to turn on the air conditioning because it would cost him money, and a sweating Hundley observed the dirty streets for the first time through open cab windows.
Fredman overheard "bad conversations to bill collectors" in the New Orleans offices of the Jazz, and he talks of some of those early games when the Jazz played most of the time at the Loyola University Fieldhouse, which had a raised court, "almost like a stage."
"The players' association was concerned about that, and they made them put a net around the court so players couldn't fall off into the stands. I'll always remember that," Fredman said.
"You look back at those days, and you go, 'wow."'
Both Hundley and Fredman were keen eyewitnesses to the magic of hometown star Pete Maravich, the first player on the Jazz roster, acquired from Atlanta on May 3, 1974, for first-round draft picks in 1974 and 1975, second-round picks in '75 and '76 and the second- and third-round picks in the '74 expansion draft. Other teams used those eventual picks to obtain players like Mike Soujourner, David Thompson and Alex English, among others.
It kind of mortgaged the club's early future, but eventual Hall-of-Famer Maravich was wildly popular. Hundley remembers that the public would often ask him not whether the Jazz had won but if Maravich had scored 30 points in the game. "They'd just go to see Pete entertain them."
Maravich is right up there for Hundley with Utah Jazz guard John Stockton as far as passing talents. "I've never seen a ballplayer better in my life at ballhandling," Hundley said. "Pete did it with a flair. John did it with the ball in front of him."
Maravich knew his role well. When he was asked at a press conference about being worth all the money for which he was signing in his new contract, Hundley says, Maravich shot back that actor Robert Redford was an entertainer and got $10 million a picture, and Maravich said he was an entertainer, too.
"He was right," Hundley says of the unique former LSU star who died of a heart attack in 1988 at age 40.
Maravich's career was slowed by a knee injury in 1978, a season after he'd won the NBA scoring championship, and that knee and the fact that the New Orleans Superdome was in such demand for things other than NBA games eventually forced team owners Sam Battistone and Larry Hatfield to look for another home after five years in New Orleans, said Fredman, who had become the team's public relations director and came to Utah as such.
Maravich played 17 games in the Utah Jazz's first season, 1979-80, averaging 17.1 points, before the knee ended his career, though he always played in NBA legends-type games and died while playing in a pickup game.
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