SO THAT WAS IT. Karl Malone's three-point shot Sunday in the Salt Palace, it turns out, was the last shot fired in the building.
There will be no more basketball in the Salt Palace. No more hockey either. Or tractor pulls. The state-of-the-art arena that opened 22 seasons ago, in 1969, isn't state-of-the-art anymore. The new Jazz arena will open in September in time for the Utah Jazz basketball season and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey season.Thus ends the Salt Palace era. A brief one by, say, redwood tree standards. But rather lengthy by hockey and basketball standards. Consider that when the era began, Connie Hawkins was the talk of the American Basketball Association, and the NHL's best hockey player was Bobby Hull, not Brett Hull. The building stayed open long enough for roughly 12 million fans to watch either basketball or hockey games; for the Eagles to have many bikini nights in mid-January; and for the Stars to give way to the Utah Pros to give way to the Utah Jazz.
A lot of people have a lot of fond memories of the Salt Palace; memories of watching hockey and basketball there. Mine are particularly fond since I hardly paid to watch any of them.
Here are some of my own personal Most Memorable Salt Palace Nights:
The Night Bird Sat Out The Fourth Quarter.
It was Monday, Feb. 18, 1985. The Celtics were playing the Jazz, and Larry Bird's career was not yet at the stage where chiropractors were following him and leaving cards in his screen door. The Celtics had won the NBA title the year before, Bird was the league MVP, and against the Jazz, who had just picked up a rookie guard named John Stockton, he was having a real good night.
With the Celtics up by more than 20 points and time still remaining in the third quarter Bird came out of the game. He had 30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and nine steals at the time. He was one steal away from recording the first points-rebounds-steals-assists quadruple double in the history of the NBA. When K.C. Jones, the Boston coach, told him where he stood statistically and asked if he wanted to go back in and try for one more steal, Bird said no thanks, he'd take the rest of the night off.
The Night The Ref Got Decked.
It was a night in the dead of winter in 1982 when the Golden Eagles were on their home ice hosting the Dallas Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had a penalty-box king named Tim Coulis, who never met a situation he couldn't turn into a game misconduct. After serving his time in the penalty box, Coulis got up to leave, skated past referee Bob Hall, said something he shouldn't have said, and got another two minute penalty. Instead of going back into the box, Coulis charged Hall and whacked him on the back of the head. Even in a sport that condones cheap shots, this was going too far.
Hall was out for a good five minutes. And Coulis? He was out for the season, suspended for hitting a ref. (Postscript: After serving his year away from the sport, Coulis came back as a free agent and was signed for the 1983-84 season by . . . the Golden Eagles. Hall is still skating strong as a referee in the NHL).
The Night the Player Fired the Coach.
Magic Johnson will never forget it. Neither will Paul Westhead. After a loss to the Jazz just 11 games into the 1981-82 season, the Los Angeles Lakers retired to their smallish visitor's locker room. There, Magic, a third-year pro who had recently signed a $20 million, 20-year deal with the Lakers, told the press he didn't enjoy playing the style of offense the Lakers were playing. The next day, in L.A., second-year coach Paul Westhead was fired.
The Lakers' radio color man, a former player and flashier new model named Pat Riley, was rushed into service to replace Westhead. With Magic's blessing.
This column can't go on and on, but the list could. There was the Holt-vs.-Holt Night - a championship-deciding hockey match in 1975, when the Golden Eagles beat Dallas in the seventh and deciding game of the Central League's title series in front of a sellout crowd. Gary Holt of the Eagles scored the game-winner in overtime against a defensive line consisting of his brother Randy, who played for Dallas.
There was the Utah Stars Championship Night in 1971, culminating in style the first year pro basketball played in the Salt Palace. There was the Night Karl Malone Got Snubbed by the All-Star Voting and scored 61 points.
In their own way, they were all memorable. Almost a thousand hockey matches, and almost a thousand more basketball games.
No one can say the building didn't get used.
Or that it won't be remembered.
Or that now, with the new arena's shadow increasing daily, it doesn't know a little better how Paul Westhead felt.