It has been called the world's only 12,616-seat library and a mausoleum with a scoreboard. The Salt Palace, home of the Utah Jazz, is also home to one of the quietest crowds in the NBA.
For all the loyalty the Jazz command in Utah, their crowd has often been accused - by players, coaches, media and management - of being far quieter than it ought to, considering the Jazz's status as a contender.Utah's crowd is usually considered a low-key group. Approximately 11,000 of the arena's seats are sold on a season-ticket basis, and most of those to prominent businesses and/or businesspersons. Not exactly a get-crazy-and-paint-your-chest-purple type clientele. One out of town writer called it a "button-down" crowd.
Whatever the reason, Jazz officials are privately concerned about the low noise level. It has been compared to that at New Jersey and Denver - both dismal teams that rarely sell out, and thus have a good reason for being quiet.
Then there is the other side of the coin. Karl Malone has complained that when the crowd does make noise, it is often the kind they don't want: negative noise. "If there is any disappointment for me this year, that (crowd criticism) has been it," says the Mailman. "Guys are up there yelling to `get your butt in gear and earn your money.' Then when things are going good, they want to reach out and slap hands with you."
Coach Jerry Sloan has said only that he hopes the crowd gets behind the Jazz for the final week of the season. But the noise level isn't likely to get much higher anytime soon. The Jazz play lowly Sacramento in the Salt Palace, tonight at 7:30. That game will be followed by a Thursday contest against Seattle.
The Kings aren't exactly fodder for vehemence. They have lost 35 straight road games, an alltime NBA record.
Jazz officials have visited other arenas to find what gets people excited. "You go into other buildings - like Chicago Stadium - and that place is rocking all the time. With players the calibre of Karl Malone and John Stockton, we ought to be rocking all the time," says Jazz V.P. for Public Relations, Dave Allred. "We need to get to where they scream and yell and paint their faces and all that. Right now, I think we wait for a reason to yell."
Traditionally, basketball players say they need vocal home-court support, yet claim they don't hear the crowd when they're on the road. "I think they're not telling the truth," says Jazz President Frank Layden. "The crowd can be a great factor on a game, both for a home team and against the opposition."
Not that the Salt Palace is always quiet. Allred says the first playoff game the Jazz ever played, in 1984, the lights were turned off and the lineups announced to a deafening roar. "I have never heard the Salt Palace that loud," he says.
Afterward, Jazz player Rich Kelley remarked, "I thought it would subside and it never did."
The Jazz went on to beat Denver in the series, 3-2, winning two of the three games in the Salt Palace.
"When we're going good, our crowd is right up there. This can be a terrible place for a visitor to play," says team President Frank Layden.
Robert Falkoff, of the Houston Post, has been covering the NBA for 12 years. Although he says he hasn't noticed the Jazz crowd as one of the quietest in the league, he says, "I think it is a crowd that when a team is doing well, they get into it, but as far as getting the team going, there are louder crowds."
He continues, "Maybe it is the offshoot of the success they've had at home. Maybe they've had so much success that the crowd expects it, and is sort of taken back when they're losing, and just sits there."
While Chicago, Phoenix, Portland and Boston have traditionally had noisy crowds, newcomers are also making their mark. Charlotte and Orlando have surprisingly vocal crowds, despite having dismal teams.
"They're just so happy to have NBA basketball, it's almost a youthful exhuberance," continues Falkoff.
There are numerous theories for Utah's lack of volume: the aforementioned "business" crowd; too many winning teams, which have spoiled fans; no dancing girls; lower beer consumption than in other arenas; the absence of a high-tech message screen to tell fans what and when to yell; a preponderance of corporate contests and announcements that bring the crowd noise down. Another theory is that since over 90 percent of the crowd consists of season ticket holders, the fans see 41 games a year. Getting excited every night is as hard for fans as it is for players.
Things could change next year. The new arena will include a huge message screen and officals are considering a dance team and a mascot.
"We recognize we have as much responsibility to motivate the crowd as they do to help the team," says Allred.
"The bottom line," says Allred, "is that regardless of whether we have dancing girls or a band or a mascot or whatever, the team ought to motivate us all. If we make a run, hopefully people will jump into it."
Criteria for deciding home-court advantage
1. Games vs. each other
2. Conference winning percentage
3. Division winning percentage
4. Winning percentage vs. conference playoff teams.
5. Winning differential/games vs. other team
6. Best point differential/offense & defense