San Antonio Spurs' longevity spells hope for Utah Jazz
Because the Jazz qualified for the playoffs in the next-to-last game of the season, and because they're facing the team with the best record and longest winning streak in the NBA, this might not be the perfect time to bring this up.
But timing was never my strong suit.
So here it is: The Jazz think they could win the championship. Eventually.
Hard to imagine, since they barely made the playoffs, but don't listen to me. I'm just the messenger.
Many assumed hope died for the Jazz in 1998, when Michael Jordan went smirking off the Delta Center court. Not necessarily. It would just take luck in the draft, some sorcery in the free agent and trade markets, and a few players who don't really care if Salt Lake shuts down at nine.
Plus, they'll probably want at least one 14-time All-Star, who doesn't care whether Spike Lee or Jack Nicholson is watching.
Voila! The Jazz could become, well, the next San Antonio Spurs.
I bring this title business up because, with the Jazz meeting the Spurs in Sunday's playoff opener, I'm realizing that San Antonio could again be a champion. That's about as newsy as a celebrity arrest, but the point is that the little guys are hanging in there and have been since, well, the Battle of the Alamo. So it's not all about big-market teams. New Jersey is sitting home, as are Toronto, Golden State, Washington and Houston – large markets all.
Meanwhile, Indiana, Orlando, Memphis, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Utah are still punching the clock. Along with the Spurs, the team with the best shot at coming out of the West is Oklahoma City, a village so small it doesn't even have a Neiman Marcus!
Imagine the deprivation.
A theory has been floating for years that the NBA doesn't like small-market teams and doesn't want them crashing the party. A steady diet of Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles will do fine, thank you very much. (New York is on its own.) And when you see superstars congregating in glamor markets like Miami, you wonder.
But a lot of people, like those in Sunday's game at the AT&T Center, aren't buying it.
"I never bought into that small-market thing," says Jazz forward Josh Howard, who also played in big-market Dallas and Washington. "You make your market, no matter where you're at. If you're the type of player that can draw attention, I think the city is going to be behind you no matter what, 100 percent. That's another reason why I came here (to Utah). I knew the fans would be behind us no matter what, small market or what."
In the Spurs' case, it took getting Tim Duncan in the 1997 draft, adding Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and they had their juggernaut. Since Duncan's arrival the Spurs have won four championships, more than anyone except the Lakers. Just when it seemed they were getting old, losing last year in the first round, they roared back to tie for the league's best record.
Small-market teams have made the NBA Finals in 10 of the last 21 years. Meanwhile, the mega-market Knicks have only been in the Finals twice since 1973, their last championship season.
For this reason and others, when you ask Jazz coach Ty Corbin if he believes in the theory that only big markets will win future titles, he says, "No. Teams play. Big cities are big cities, and maybe they draw a couple of guys because they're a big city, but once you put a team together and have its personality, the team kind of takes off. Look at San Antonio."
Sure, but could it happen in Utah? In our lifetimes?
"Absolutely," Corbin says.
How far the Jazz are from that is entirely another question. Officially, they're still building. Corbin won't even say whether he has the raw talent to be a contender.
"Who knows?" he says. "I don't know. We're going to be there and we're going to compete and see where it is. As for how close we are, we're in the first round of the playoffs, and that's what we're going to follow right now."
Ironically, they're almost exactly the same distance from a title as the Knicks, who finished with an identical record.
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