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Utah Jazz honor the 1983-84 team that 'saved the franchise'

Published: Sunday, March 23 2014 3:15 p.m. MDT

First Utah Jazz playoff team card poster

Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — Darrell Griffith — Dr. Dunkenstein or the Golden Griff, if you prefer — vividly remembers being in the Salt Palace before one particular tipoff in the spring of 1984. Up to that point of his career, he’d played in about 300 pro games with Utah, the majority losses.

“My first two years with the Jazz were my worst years in sports,” the 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year admitted. “It didn’t reflect on the Jazz itself. It’s just that we (weren’t) winning, and that’s rough.”

But similar to the season he’d just finished, this particular night 30 years ago was different.

The Jazz, a team that started a decade earlier in New Orleans and began with nine-straight losing seasons, were about to play in the first playoff game in franchise history on that April 17 night.

Before beginning their series against rival Denver, however, the squad stood on the court as a Midwest Division championship banner was raised to the rafters to commemorate a year of firsts.

First winning season. First division title. First playoffs.

“That was a big moment for me as a player, because you want to be able to leave a legacy of winning,” Griffith recalled. “In a short period of time to make that change, it was very fulfilling.”

Three decades later, that 1983-84 team was honored by the organization Saturday during a festive night at EnergySolutions Arena.

Thousands of purple posters were given away with detachable trading cards of players such as Griffith, Adrian Dantley, Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Rickey Green, Bobby Hansen, John Drew and Rich Kelley.

Multiple key figures from that historic Jazz team — Eaton, Bailey, Griffith, Kelley, Jerry Eaves, Frank Layden and Phil Johnson, among others — were introduced and given a standing ovation during a first-half break.

Hundreds of autographs were signed before tipoff of the Magic-Jazz game.

And a season full of memories were rekindled.

Layden, the head coach from 1981-88, wore a flashy championship ring as a tribute to that 1983-84 team that finished 47-35, won the first division title in Jazz history and made it to the Western Conference semifinals after beating Denver in the playoffs.

Layden, who was also the general manager at the time, fondly recalled how things came together for that special season.

He had saved Green from Billings, Mont., and the CBA a couple of years before only to enjoy “The Fastest of Them All” becoming an All-Star point guard. He’d discovered the gritty Hansen while watching film of Joe Barry Carroll. Eaton’s game blossomed quicker than anyone expected from the former mechanic. Bailey had a strong rookie season after winning a national title at North Carolina State. Dantley’s unique offensive talents helped him transform into an All-Star and the NBA’s top scorer.

“It was just the perfect combination for us to win,” he said.

Despite going 30-52 the previous season and 107-221 in the first four years in Utah after relocating from the Bayou, the Jazz came into their own in that pivotal 1983-84 campaign.

“They matured,” Layden said. “We had the guy that led the league in steals (Green). We had the guy that led the league in blocks (Eaton). We had the guy that led the league in scoring (Dantley).

“With a little coaching, we probably would have won 55 games.”

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