Commentary: Escaping the ghosts of the past: Can the new Jazz do it?

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 6:27 a.m. MDT

Gary Payton, in his hall-of-fame speech in early September said, “when I got in the NBA and I wasn’t as good as I thought I was going to be for the first two years. I watched (John Stockton)."

Payton is being classy when he mentions his rivalry with Stockton.

In other venues, Payton declares Stockton was harder to defend than Michael Jordan. Payton’s been saying things like this for a couple of years, and Utah fans love it.

Many pundits list Stockton in their top-five list of point guards. Karl Malone is likewise debated over for power forwards. Jerry Sloan is in the top 10 for coaching — and technical fouls.

Stockton, Malone and Sloan established Utah's reputation for work and execution. Other iconic players and coaches active, retired and now deceased blessed Utah and the Jazz by carrying on this ethic.

As wonderful as this is, for new players, these basketball greats are a nightmare. Specters of Deron Williams, Stockton and “Pistol” Pete Maravich haunt rookies like Trey Burke. That is a lot of talent chasing them every time they pass, steal, score and turn the ball over.

Aspiring cartoonists have similar pressure.

Newspaper — and now Internet — cartoonists have shaped opinion and humor long before Dr. James Naismith nailed a peach basket to a chunk of wood. Artists and humorists like Bagley, Oliphant, Kellett, Breathed, Larsen, Geisel and Kelly are just some of the greats that hound every splotched ink line, missed portrait and crummy punch-line.

Everyone has ghosts, however, the ghosts that shadow my path are not as locally beloved as a basketball legend like Stockton — not even Bagley. For a rookie from the Midwest, I doubt Burke knows how often he'll be compared to Stockton and Williams.

The second I accepted the assignment to illustrate “the Jazz youth need to escape the shadow of legends," I broke out my highlighters and Sharpies and started drawing. I YouTubed Burke while he was at Michigan and several videos later found myself watching old Jazz highlights. I watched several top-10s and a Stockton retrospective documentary.

I love the Jazz. My kids and I banged pots and pans together in our apartment parking lot right after “the shot." I mourned the loss of both championships. I celebrated the retirements of John, Karl and Jeff (Hornacek). I loved Williams and his tenacity. I regretted the break-up leading to Williams’ trade and Sloan’s retirement. I loved Paul Millsap’s heart.

The Jazz are about passion and hard work. Karl’s workout videos were not the 90s cliché many thought them ridiculed them as. He lived those videos and probably still does. The Jazz were famous for not wearing expensive suits during the Stockton and Malone era, but when Williams and Carlos Boozer did, I never criticized. I could still hear the hammer-on-anvil toll of hard work playing in the background.

While I never sacrifice my body diving for pen on the floor like Bryon Russell, Andrei Kirilenko or Cory Brewer. I hate carpet burns, and the neighbors downstairs would complain at the fat thump that would knock dust from their ceiling.

I do draw every night, however. In the last year, I have gone through several packs of Sharpies and highlighters. My Wacom Bamboo Tablet is beat. Coke Zero bottles, expended pens and shredder dust from failed sketches litter my bedroom floor. I lose myself drawing. I forget the time. I have gotten home from work and started a project only to look up at the clock and realize I have to leave to work shortly having worked through the night, forgotten to do chores, forgotten to sleep and neglected food.

Utah coach Tyrone Corbin has told his players to be the best they can be — overachieve. There are loads of reasons to do this in professional basketball. Lazy rookies do not last long. Lazy teams do not have winning seasons. Lazy cartoonists do not learn new technology or learn how to improve existing skills.

On Sept. 29, Deseret News columnist Brad Rock drums home the argument the Jazz are rebuilding. Every team has to do this. Rock is not alone with this sentiment. Andy Bailey in his Sept. 25 Bleacher Report article presages this, predicting the Jazz will return to the playoffs in two or three years after missing last year. Rock portends “eight free agents left the team this offseason, opening the way for the ‘Core Four’ to lead transition -- Hayward, Favors, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.

“Although all the aforementioned have considerable playing time, this will be the first year it’s their team, and there is a sense of newness. For 18 years it was John Stockton and Karl Malone, then Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, and finally Jefferson and Millsap.

“Now it’s a clean canvas."

By saying “clean,” Rock not only warns the new Jazz are unknown and rebuilding, they are also not marred by the sins of the past. The Jazz are fresh, new, over-achieving and clean.

I love the smell of clean. Clean, new paper is almost as nice smelling as newly mimeographed elementary school worksheets. Clean new car smell is intoxicating. Clean laundry smells of innocence and exuberance.

I drew Burke dodging Sloan, Stockton and Williams and the “Core Four” recoiling from Malone depicting their innocence and exuberance. I used two Sharpies, two yellow highlighters and a green highlighter on three sheets of drawing paper and edited in PhotoShop Elements to produce my cartoon. This approach is unorthodox. The “how to cartoon” books recommend the new cartoonist should throw all Sharpies in the trash. The “right” approach is India ink, brush and copy-safe, blue pencils on Bristol Board. The core aspect to my art is to focus on the absurd and ridiculous and to get the emotion right.

I wouldn’t mind if the new, “clean” Jazz were young and maybe a little unorthodox. Unlike “the orthodox” Rock and Bailey, I am optimistic. I think the new, clean Jazz can escape the ghosts of the past and find the playoffs this year as their own kind of team. I know, this is a bit over the top, but I did list my ethnic group in the expanded federal census as “Utah Jazz Fan” and that should explain any overexcited delusions I might have.

Aaron Guile lives in Provo and can be contacted at aaron.guile@gmail.com.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company