NBA basketball finally returned to the Beehive State on Monday night.
Well, sort of.
Sure, these were real, honest-to-goodness NBA players running up and down the court at Salt Lake Community College's Lifetime Activities Center on Monday night. But it wasn't really an NBA game, just a great, well-intentioned imitation.
No, thanks to the ongoing lockout and frustrating labor stalemate between the NBA's owners and players, instead of having a chance to watch tonight's scheduled game between the Utah Jazz and the Heat at Miami, fans were treated to something called the Pro Players Charity Classic instead.
Oh, sure, there was plenty of NBA star-power out there throwing down a dazzling array of dunks, popping in 3-pointers like they were nothing more than free throws, flashing some fancy circus shots usually reserved for the playround, and gracefully gliding around the floor like only NBA players can with seemingly less effort than it would take most of us to go walk the dog.
But as fun as it was to watch established NBA players breaking a sweat out on the court again for the first time since the Mavericks cooled the Heat for the world championship last June, it just wasn't quite the same.
Because it was, after all, just an exhibition game, with nothing at stake, although it was a good cause — a fund-raiser for charity.
Indeed, it was somewhat reminiscent of the old Rocky Mountain Revue days, just with much better players — a lot of them. Or like an NBA preseason game in which the front-line stars do more than just make a token appearance.
Guys like Jazz regulars Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles, Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Eric Watson, Ronnie Price and Jeremy Evans all saw action, along with last summer's Utah draft picks, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks — who certainly showed that he can light up the scoreboard to the tune of 29 points.
Plus former Jazzman Wesley Matthews and other "name" Jazz opponents like Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry, Corey Maggette and Anthony Tolliver.
And the Beehive State's favorite basketball-playing son, former BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette.
Zach Payne, a 13-year-old from Kaysville, was among the nearly 3,000 fans on hand. Proudly wearing a Fredette T-shirt, Payne said his family used to own Jazz season-tickets, and he felt like $47 was a small price to pay for a front-row seat to watch Fredette and others strut their stuff.
"I'm a big Jimmer fan," said Payne, who purchased his ticket a week ahead of time. "I went to a couple of his games at BYU. ... My favorite player on the Jazz is Paul Millsap. We used to have season-tickets to go watch him, so that was always fun.
"It was worth it, I think. It was pretty exciting.
"It's kind of boring without NBA basketball," said Payne, a 5-foot-8 center for his Junior Darts team. "It seems kind of empty without it."
Zach Gondek, 30, of Salt Lake City, was in attendance wearing a No. 24 Millsap jersey in honor of "one of his favorite players." A Jazz season-ticket holder for the last five years, he misses NBA basketball a bunch these days and thoroughly enjoyed Monday night's exhibition.
"I thought it was awesome," Gondek said. "It's been a little hard during the lockout. Thank goodness there's NFL football. Without football, it'd be a long winter.
"I could see one of these a month and be happy. I just enjoyed the game itself, watching the players interact with each other. There was a lot of horsing around and playing around."
Doug and Marilyn Pearce, of Taylorsville, had Jazz season-tickets for 15 years before it became too expensive and too time-consuming to keep getting them. They're admittedly bothered by the lockout, feeling that the fans are the ones who've been left out in the cold while billionaire owners fight over the almighty dollar with millionaire players.
"The players and the owners don't want to have a meeting of the minds, and the fans are the ones who take the brunt of it all," Marilyn Pearce said.
"The fans support it all and they're left out of it all. They're not even in on the whole deal.
"We love basketball; we love the sport."
Their grandson, 11-year-old Tristen Madsen, had a chance to attend the Jimmer Camp and Wesley Matthews' camp, and the youngster won the 3-point shootout at the Jimmer Camp. He got a chance to meet Fredette and Matthews, and his grandparents were very impressed with the way he was treated by the hoop stars.
"Those guys had a little bit to do with why we're here," Doug Pearce said.
"We took our grandson to Jimmer's camp and he was just a great kid. And we see Ronnie Price around a little bit and we like him, too. There's some real nice kids out there."
And, unfortunately, they're all waiting for the lockout to end so they can get back to work — in NBA games that matter.
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