MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Utah Jazz had a night off Saturday in Memphis, and coach Tyrone Corbin decided to take his team on a field trip.
In what doubled as a team-building excursion and a history lesson, the Jazz visited the National Civil Rights Museum and the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. After, they had a team dinner.
"It was a great chance to get the guys together and give them some education — a way just to be together other than on the court," Corbin said. "It (is) giving direction and working on something other than just basketball. This was life skills."
Richard Smith, the Jazz's director of basketball operations, came up with the non-basketball bonding idea.
Corbin called it "eye-opening" for players, who experienced a four-century look at the evolution of black rights in the U.S. The historical museum includes a touching documentary — showing how Dr. King was killed in Memphis while trying to help garbage men get better wages — a detailed audio tour, exhibits such as a replica of the infamous Rosa Parks' bus, and opportunities to stand in the old motel a few feet away from the spots where the inspirational preacher/movement leader was murdered and from where the killer shot his rifle across the courtyard.
"A lot of us have probably learned that in history class growing up, but it's always more powerful when you're at the location that it happened," 21-year-old swingman Gordon Hayward said. "Being able to walk back through time, see all of that stuff and learn all of the details, it was really moving."
Derrick Favors plans on returning to soak more in.
"It was a good experience," the 20-year-old from Atlanta said. "My grandma used to tell me about it. She grew up in that era."
Veteran Devin Harris has visited a handful of times. This trip, he focused more on what happened in the 1950s civil rights movement. He called it "perfect timing" for the Jazz to do something together outside of hoops — or an autograph-signing event.
"Fantastic team event, I thought, especially during Black History Month," Harris said. "It was nice to learn about some stuff, especially with the guys in a different setting. … I think guys learned a lot from it and I think it was good for all of us."
Corbin called it "chilling" to visit the assassination site and to hear stories about the struggles people went through.
"The encouraging thing," Corbin said, "was the unity of how folks stayed together and the number of people from all kind of different walks of life that came in and tried to do the right things. Even though it wasn't popular in some communities to do it, they tried to do the right thing. There's good people all over the place."
Corbin reflected about "the spirit of folk just to keep going and trying to make life as best as they could, given the circumstances they were under."
And the 49-year-old coach from South Carolina hopes that resonates with the "good people" he also calls his players.
"They've got to understand," he said, "the importance of not just playing basketball, but their lives, (but) the sacrifice that other people have made so that we can enjoy the life that we live today."
Earl Watson, who played in Memphis for three years early in his career, liked how younger guys had an educational experience. He believes the sooner players learn balance in life, the better. He got lessons like that with the Grizzlies from Hubie Brown and Jerry West.
"It's bigger than basketball," he said. "Some of the best teams I played for … teach you how to be a man in life and a man on the court. The parallels go hand in hand."
All the better to learn and bond with people they spend so much time with throughout the season.
"It always helps to get the guys together as much as you can and do things other than basketball," Corbin said, "so they make sure they understand about personal growth and the unity that we need to have as a group to continue to grow together as a team."
Other quick shots from today's shootaround — on Abraham Lincoln's birthday — at the FedEx Forum for tonight's 7:30 p.m. MT game:
— Corbin said his team's "spirits are good" despite recent struggles and the daunting schedule ahead in this back-to-back-to-back journey, which begins tonight for the 13-12 Jazz against 14-13 Memphis.
"We understand the importance of where we are and we're ready for the challenge," Corbin said. "This back-to-back-to-back, it's going to be a whirlwind here for a little bit."
— Defending point guards have lit up the Jazz for the past couple of weeks. Corbin called it a "concern." He pointed out that the Jazz need to improve how they channel opposing playmakers to where they want them to go — toward the baseline, not the basket.
Utah point guards and bigs have to cut off the path up high and be aggressive and physical in defending the opponent with the ball. At the same time, the weakside help needs to be in a correct position to thwart penentration. The Jazz also want to avoid allowing point guards to split defenders up top.
"It's a thing we all have to do a better job at," Corbin said.
— Corbin said he will adjust minutes and rotations a bit to keep guys as fresh as possible during this three-games-in-three-nights-in-three-states stretch.
Corbin: "We need everybody to be ready and just willing to play the minutes they're playing and staying focused on trying to give us a chance to get the win."
— Asked about Gordon Hayward's second season, Corbin credited the swingman for making the "largest strides" on defense even while facing the other teams' top scorers sometimes.
"I think he's doing a great job of taking that challenge personally, getting up in the guys," Corbin said.
The coach is convinced that Hayward's offensive game has benefited from the way he's played physical defense and made opponents "work for everything," like he did in helping hold Kevin Durant to just 19 points in Friday's loss.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company