He had flown 7,000 miles to be there, and given himself over to dozens of interviews in two different languages. He had signed hundreds of autographs. The Mailman was definitely an item in the Land of the Rising Sun.
But Karl Malone's patience was wearing thin. He called Japanese food "junk." He said Japanese prices were even too high for him. He joked about not being able to find any collared greens.And he was edgy. A month of training camp had been enough. "I'm ready to play basketball," said Malone. "Let's get this show on the road."
And so they did, the Jazz starting off the 1990-91 season with more optimism than the franchise had ever enjoyed. A season which would, at times, live up to billing, and other times be an exercise in futility. A season of high hopes and bonus miles for a group of Accidental Tourists who never seemed to quite get over their strange start in a strange land. . .
The flight to Japan took 14 hours. When the Jazz arrived, Tokyo was amid preparations for the inauguration of the new emperor. The normally heavy traffic was worse than ever. New York, for all its problems, was never like this.
Thus began the season, on the other side of the earth against an old and familiar opponent, the Phoenix Suns.
Despite being far away from the expectations of a hometown crowd, the Jazz obviously had the first-game jitters. Jeff Malone, who was acquired in the summer, went 5-for-15 on his first night as a Jazz player. As a team, they shot a tepid 44 percent, losing 119-96 to the Suns.
The following night, though, they escaped disaster, beating the Suns, 102-101, when Tom Chambers missed an open jumper at the buzzer.
But the win was only a temporary relief in a month filled with conflict and worry. It was a month that, in many ways, would set the tone for the remainder of the season. When the Jazz returned home, Coach Jerry Sloan began what would become a season-long lament. "We're tired," said Sloan. "I've never been through anything like it."
And that was when the Jazz still had 80 games to go.
Soon the Jazz were 2-5, and grasping for air. Michael Jordan and the Bulls beat them on a last-second shot at the Salt Palace. Orlando and Boston beat them on the road. Their losing streak stretched to four games.
Even though the season was young, the Mailman was already impatient. He complained in Boston that "it's getting sad now," and charged that the Jazz bench had players who "don't even belong in the league."
Two days later he apologized to teammates in Minneapolis, where the Jazz ended their losing streak at four games.
They closed out the month on a positive note, winning five in a row. Things were finally, ostensibly, turning around.
After the shaky first month, the Jazz began to shape what would define the rest of their season. They would be hard-nosed and physical and almost unbeatable at home.
Even though they lost the month's first game - a 101-97 defeat at Portland - the Jazz knew they were onto something. In November, the Blazers had already been prematurely proclaimed the heir apparent to the crown. Utah took the Blazers into the final seconds before losing.
The Jazz then went on a six-game win streak, beating some monstrous competition along the way. They rubbed out the World Champion Pistons by 21. They smashed the Lakers 101-79. Golden State felt the impact of Jeff Malone, who scored the highest total of anyone all year, 43 points, in Utah's 135-117 win over the Warriors.
But there were the standard disappointments, such a loss at home to Indiana. They closed out a five-game, pre-Christmas road trip with a surprising defeat at Miami.
December was much more than straight basketball, though. Wedding bells chimed. Long known as a famous bachelor, the Mailman was finally tied down when he married former Miss Idaho Kay Kinsey on Christmas Eve. It was a gala affair. Or so we heard. The Malones had guards stationed around his home to ensure nobody, not even the National Enquirer, got pictures of the basketball star and the beauty queen.
Although December was a most successful month - the Jazz went 11-4 - January was memorable on its own terms. How often does Charles Barkley brick four free throws in the final minute to give the Jazz a win over the Sixers?
It was a month of sweeping disparities,with the Jazz running hot and fast sometimes, unable to get going at others. They began the month with four straight wins, stretching their streak to six.
But soon to follow was their first trip to the Great Western Forum, where the Lakers would send the Jazz home with a 108-85 loss.
Then there was the craziness with the Spurs. On Jan. 12, the Jazz took an embarrassing 112-92 loss at San Antonio. It was a game made more memorable by the Mailman trashing a promotional pinata that wore his number.
Malone was offended that they would plan to publicly flog a pinata made out to be him. The promoters - from a San Antonio restaurant - were offended the Mailman had taken offense.
Three days later, the tables were turned. There was no pinata and the Jazz buried the Spurs, 124-102, in Salt Lake City.
In three days the Jazz had made up a difference of 42 points on the Spurs, thanks largely to their love of home court.
The month's greatest moment for the Jazz was, naturally, in the Salt Palace, where they fell behind by as many as 23 points, only to come back and win, 116-105 over the Hawks. Coach Jerry Sloan was so impressed, he called it one of the great efforts of his coaching career.
They closed things out with a win over Portland in Salt Lake, illustrating once again that though they may be just another loose cannon on the road, at home, they're an institution.
With only 10 games scheduled, February was almost like the good old college days. There were days off, time to watch television and play with the kids. When they did play, the Jazz continued to win convincingly at home, claiming all six.
Most impressive was a 104-81 drubbing of San Antonio, in a game that secured the season series edge over the Spurs.
However memorable that victory, February will always be remembered for a non-Jazz game. The All-Star Game in Charlotte beckoned the Mailman and John Stockton. Stockton was lost in a sea of great guards, but Malone played a significant part of the game. He also got more than his share of criticism when, anticipating that a Kevin Johnson buzzer shot was short, slapped it away from the rim and was called for offensive basket interference. The play allowed the East to escape with a two-point victory.
The month ended on a Blue note, as starting forward Blue Edwards severely sprained his ankle - an injury that would keep him out a month (16 games).
For years the Jazz have been labeled as a team that can't beat good teams on the road. But for one wild week in March, they were in danger of changing all that.
Starting one of their longest road trips in their history - seven games in 11 days - the Jazz stunned Detroit on the first night in the The Palace. Andy Toolson, the BYU rookie who was called on to replace Edwards, came on to land a crucial three-pointer in the fourth period. Thurl Bailey converted a corner jump shot to give the Jazz a 94-92 victory.
The run wasn't over yet. The Jazz went on to defeat Philadelphia, Orlando and Washington, all on the road.
But as quickly as the winning began, it ended. Michael Jordan beat the Jazz all by himself in Chicago. New York then took a turn, whipping the Jazz handily, 101-92. The trip ended at HemisFair Arena, as the Jazz fell to the Spurs, 105-96.
There was much more to come. The month had a grueling 16 games in 29 days, 11 of them on the road. It ended disastrously, in a pair of road losses to the Clippers and Sacramento - losses which some would say cost them the Midwest Division title.
Crucial games on the road again became a problem. The Jazz lost 131-117 at Phoenix - a place where they've only won four times in the last 34 tries. They also dropped an important game to the charging Houston Rockets at the Summit, making it truly a three-team race.
Old problems loomed. Despite a valiant comeback, the Jazz ended up losing by 15 at the Forum. Sloan continued to talk about his team being tired. He put out an APB on anyone willing to give them help off the bench. But his plans didn't include popular veteran Darrell Griffith, who sat out six straight games.
They kept close to the Spurs, but were never able to get the lead back that they had in March. The Jazz came down the stretch wheezing but willing as they fought to beat the doormats. In the final month of the season they struggled mightily to beat Orlando, Dallas, Denver (in which Karl Malone scored a season-high 41) and Sacramento.
The final weekend was one of dizzy highs and depressing lows. Stockton broke his own NBA record for assists in a season. Trailing by a game to the Spurs with three days days to go, the Jazz got an unexpected gift when Denver shocked San Antonio. The next day they beat the Lakers 107-93 in the Salt Palace.
It all came down to the final day of the season, in which a win over Golden State would give the Jazz no worse than a tie for the division title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
No soap. Golden State got 81 points from its three star players - Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway - to disappoint the Jazz again. The Jazz finished with 54 wins, one less than the previous year, and trying to convince their fans that 54 wins isn't anything to be mad about.
When it was all done, and they had played 82 games in 28 different cities and two countries, they turned their attention to the playoffs and the chance to make good on some old plans. "It's a totally different thing than the regular season," said Sloan.
Japan didn't matter, nor did two wins over the Pistons or three over the Spurs. It was time for the playoffs. Time for the Second Season. As the Mailman put it six months earlier, time to get the show on the road.