If you're hoping to pick up a last-minute ticket for tonight's Jazz-Knicks game in the Salt Palace (7:30 p.m., Channel 13), save yourself the trouble and come back next year. These days, Jazz tickets are scarce. Tonight's contest will mark the team's 100th straight home sellout.

The Jazz's modest beginnings have been chronicled before. The shaky start in 1979, when Frank Layden would open the doors and let people in free just to fill up space; the cheap promotions and low-budget television commericals. The team's first sellout in Utah didn't come until the 37th game of 1979-80 season, when the Lakers were in town. That first year, the Jazz only sold out five times: three times for the Lakers and once apiece against the Celtics and Sixers."There's no question that what we had to sell back then was the NBA, not us," said former media relations director Dave Fredman.

Now they have plenty to sell. Primarily, that includes a team battling for the lead in the Midwest Division and no fewer than three star-caliber players. The team's rise began slowly taking form when the Jazz picked the NBA's College Player of the Year, Darrell Griffith, in the 1980 Draft.

"I was coming from Louisville, where we averaged 20,000 a game," said Griffith, recalling his early years with the Jazz. "When I was first here, you'd look up and there'd be 4,500 in the stands. I was wondering where the fan support was. Of course, all you had to do was look at the record and it indicated one reason why."

Some of the increase in attendance was, obviously, tied to winning. The Jazz went from a 24-win season in 1980 to a 55-win season in 1990. However, part was simply due to the phenomenal rise of the league as a whole. The influence of such stars as Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan brought phenomenal results. The Jazz rode a crest of NBA enthusiasm that began in the 80s and affected numerous teams. The Portland Traiblazers have sold out 601 straight games, Boston 473. But even teams without impressive records or rosters seem to be benefiting. The lowly Sacramento Kings have sold out 231 straight and Charlotte 90.

Becoming a perennial sellout wasn't exactly what the Jazz expected at first. At the dedication ceremonies for the new Jazz arena last May, team president Frank Layden said, "When I first came to this valley, I looked at things and said to myself, `This definitely is not the place."' Former G.M. Dave Checketts once said that when he first joined the club, one of his goals was simply to see more kids wearing Jazz shirts and hats than those wearing Lakers' paraphernalia on Salt Lake's streets.

"If you'd have talked to me about sellouts in 1983, it was just too lofty a goal," said Jay Francis, the Jazz's Vice President for Marketing. "We were going for seven-, eight-, nine-thousand. If anyone wanted to talk about a streak of sellouts, that just wasn't something I would have thought we could do."

Now the Jazz have another challenge. The team is scheduled to move into its new 19,500-seat arena next fall, which will mean attracting another 7,000 per night. The Jazz will likely have more group ticket deals and promotions, things they have been unable to do in recent years because of the scarcity of Salt Palace tickets. "We're now in a sellout situation (in the Salt Palace) . . . so to have a goal of selling out every night in the new arena doesn't scare me," said Francis. "It's a lofty goal, but to be honest, it's my goal. "

PREGAME NOTES: Jazz guard John Stockton sat out of Tuesday's practice with flu symptoms and a slightly pulled hamstring. Center Mike Brown didn't practice due to a sprained toe. Whether it will keep either out of the game, Coach Jerry Sloan says, "Only time will tell. Mike says he'll be able to go, and so does John . . . The Knicks have two players among the league's stat leaders, including Patrick Ewing (seventh in scoring, fifth in rebounding, third in blocked shots) and Charles Oakley (fourth in rebounding) . . . Ewing and Oakley's combined 32 rebounds against Philadelphia on Tuesday equaled the entire output by the Sixers. . . Jazz reserve Walter Palmer missed Monday's practice due to the flu.



Consecutive sellout streaks

(As of Jan. 21)

Portland 601

Boston 473

Sacramento 231

Chicago 160

Detroit 120

Utah 99

Charlotte 90