When Coach Jerry Sloan stepped down on Feb. 10 after 1,127 wins and 23 seasons, Jazz Nation stood in a state of disbelief. In fact, astonished waves rippled throughout the NBA.
“I’m too shocked to have a reaction,” Doc Rivers, coach of the Boston Celtics said upon hearing the news. Days later, fans were jolted again as Deron Williams was traded to the New Jersey Nets.
“I don't remember ever being as shocked as when I heard D-Will got traded.” Karl Kowallis, an avid Jazz fan said. “Thought he was a lifer. I literally own 6 D-Will jerseys ... what do I do with them now?”
The Jazz have been a part of water cooler shock talk for years.
The first, perhaps, was the decision in 1979 to move the New Orleans team to the desert. And keep the original name. After 10 rough seasons, five of them in Utah, the Jazz made their own kind of music and headed to the playoffs for the first time in 1984 -- a run that would last 20 consecutive years.
There have been moments that surprised fans, such as when Frank Layden was attacked by Morganna, the Kissing Bandit, during a 1988 Jazz Game, or when Mark Eaton made a basket -- on the wrong side of the court. And what loyal fan, including the likes of Orrin Hatch, could sit courtside and dismiss the salty language used by Sloan to get the attention of players, refs and the “superfan” behind the hoop, without sending a little shock to the soul.
There was the subtle shock of John Stockton, playing in his “short-shorts” well after the rest of the league went “long.” And Rony Seikaly who stunned fans with a no-show after being traded to the Jazz in 1998. Of course, the salary of Greg Ostertag, which totaled $48,251,390 during his days in the NBA, left some speechless.
There have been games along the way that were blown. The first round loss to the Mavericks in the 2001 playoffs, when the Jazz were up 2-0 in the series and lost the next three, including the last game when the lead was at one point in double-digits.
And, there have been shocking comebacks along the way. In fact, the biggest comeback in NBA history was made by the Utah Jazz. Down by 36 points, the team rallied to beat the Denver Nuggets by four points on Nov. 27, 1996.
“The feel-good shocking moment for the Jazz happened with a 10-day contract with Sundiata Gaines of the NBA Development League’s Idaho Stampede,” Ryan Jones of North Ogden commented. “His very first NBA 3-point shot was a game winning buzzer beater to beat Lebron James and the Cavs. It was awesome!” During a time out Jazz announcer Dave Locke confidently predicted a favorable outcome for the Jazz.
There have been shocking moments off the court as well. “What Jazz fan could forget the open handed slap delivered from Shaquille O'Neal to Greg Ostertag between practice sessions that sent Ostertag flying to the floor?” Jazz fan Justin Swapp said of the 1997 event. “Or the time when D-Will was arrested during his rookie year in Park City for getting in a fight and using a fake name.”
Perhaps the most visually shocking event in Jazz history was when Karl Malone traded his #32 jersey in for a Lakers uniform. “Watching my beloved Karl Malone play basketball in a Lakers uniform was almost more than I could take.” Joe Dallimore, a lifetime Jazz fan, said.
Still, nothing competes with the shock and despair of the last game of the Michael Jordan/Bulls era as all hopes of winning a championship in 1998 ended with one good look at the basket, and a brackish Bulls win. In a moment all the momentum, and all hope, was swished away. Fans were stunned. And each dealt in his or her own way with the crushing heartbreak that would last all summer. The game was viewed by a record breaking 72 million people. Many thought that Jordan had pushed off Russell and should have been called for a foul. “Whether he pushed off or not, he was making the shot,” Russell admitted once the sting of the game had faded. The shock of this one moment, this one basket, is forever frozen in Jazz history as the championship that got away.
But shock, in some cases, can get a heart beating, pounding! The most shocking, unbelievable moment in Jazz history occurred when John Stockton hit the three point shot at the buzzer against the Houston Rockets in 1997 to send his team and the state of Utah to the NBA Finals for the first time. “I just feel so happy we got that done.” Stockton said after the game, holding back emotion.
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The state celebrated like never before. “I felt like we finally made it over the roadblock,” Jazz fan Stacy Hock said, “and what better person to show the world what the Jazz could really do than John Stockton,” Screams and cheers, hugs and laughter, mixed with high emotion and a dose of relief, fans everywhere cherished the shock and awe of a moment that will never be forgotten.
Amy Wilde is a writer living in Brigham City, Utah. You can follow her blog at http://amywildeatmosphere.blogspot.com/, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.