After all kinds of adventures, we find the Jazz entering their 10th season in Utah. Ten seasons! The team that came from New Orleans and kept the same name, colors and uniforms has genuinely found a home.
The Jazz's resounding success in the 1987-88 regular season and playoffs made the early years in Utah easy to forget. But no doubt, this was a franchise that struggled on and off the court to build a winner in Salt Lake City. With expectations higher than ever and the Jazz talking seriously about winning 50 games and even challenging for the NBA championship, here's a look at their Utah history:1979-80: Co-owners Sam Battistone and Larry Hatfield move the franchise from New Orleans and hire Tom Nissalke as head coach and Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Frank Layden as general manager. Adrian Dantley is acquired from the Lakers in a trade for Spencer Haywood. Future Hall of Fame player Pete Maravich is waived during the season, but Dantley becomes Utah's first All-Star as the Jazz finish 24-58.
The Jazz go through 20 players during that first season in Utah, searching for the right combination. Players who came and went in the early days and are still active in the NBA include Dallas point guard Brad Davis, Washington forward Bernard King and Golden State center Jerome Whitehead.
1980-81: The Jazz take NCAA Player of the Year Darrell Griffith of Louisville with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft and Griffith becomes the NBA Rookie of the Year and Dantley leads the league in scoring with a 30.7 average. The Jazz sign point guard Rickey Green from Billings of the Continental Basketball Association; he eventually becomes the Jazz's all-time leader in games played. The Jazz improve to 28-54.
Veteran guard Ron Boone, a local hero from his days with the ABA Utah Stars, plays in his 1,000th consecutive professional game.
1981-82: Dantley starts for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the third straight year and finishes third in the NBA in scoring and seventh in field-goal percentage, while Green starts to make real impact by finishing sixth in steals and assists. The Jazz end up 25-57, with Layden taking over as coach in December. Dantley scores 57 points in a game, the NBA high for the season.
1982-83: The Jazz, who find UCLA center Mark Eaton in the fourth round of the draft, trade first-round choice Dominique Wilkins to Atlanta. Dantley misses the last 60 games of the regular season following surgery on his wrist, but the Jazz reach the 30-win level for the first time in Utah and Layden is rewarded with a 10-year contract. The Jazz make all 39 free-throw attempts in a game against Portland to set an all-time NBA record.
1983-84: To this day, Layden calls this his most satisfying season. With rookies Thurl Bailey and Bobby Hansen added to a more stable team, the Jazz go 11-2 in December and go on to the win the Midwest Division championship with a 45-37 record. Layden is named the NBA Coach of the Year and NBA Executive of the Year and coaches Dantley and Green in the NBA All-Star Game. Statistically, they have four individual champions - Dantley (scoring), Eaton (blocked shots), Griffith (three-point shooting) and Green (steals). While playing 11 home games in Las Vegas, the Jazz are 25-4 in the Salt Palace. In the franchise's first playoff appearance, the Jazz defeat Denver in five games in the first round but lose to Phoenix in six games in the second round.
But the Jazz have taken a very important step; they're now on their way to a still-alive streak of .500-or-better seasons that send them to the playoffs. This first winning season and playoff appearance comes after nine losing years in New Orleans and Salt Lake City.
1984-85: The Jazz need a strong finish for a 41-41 regular-season record, but stage a shocking comeback led by rookie guard John Stockton to win their first-round playoff series with Houston in a deciding Game 5 on the road. They lose to Denver in five games in the first round. Local car dealer Larry Miller buys half of the franchise in a transaction completed just before the end of the regular season.
1985-86: Griffith misses the whole season with a foot injury, but rookie forward Karl Malone immediately makes his presence known by helping the Jazz to a 42-40 record. Dantley makes his sixth All-Star appearance in seven seasons, but misses the playoffs with a back injury and the Jazz lose to Dallas in four games in the first round. Shortly after the season, Miller buys the rest of the franchise from Battistone, preventing a sale and move to Minnesota.
1986-87: In August, the Jazz trade Dantley to Detroit for Kelly Tripucks and Kent Benson. The Jazz use a 12-3 December, highlighted by several improbable road victories, to send them to a 44-38 record and a homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But after taking a 2-0 lead over Golden State, they lose the next three games and are eliminated. But interest in the team remains high - the front office has a busy summer, with season-ticket renewals at a record high rate.
1987-88: Standing 18-22 in late January, the Jazz regroup and finish 47-35, the best record in franchise history. Malone finishes fourth in the NBA in rebounding (12.0) and fifth in scoring (27.7) while Stockton breaks an NBA season assists record on the final night. Even with their late drive, the Jazz are unable to gain a homecourt advantage in the playoffs, but they still handle Portland in four games and then extend the defending - and eventual - champion Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals, drawing national attention.
What's ahead for the Utah Jazz? Great possibilities - a new arena, more televised games and maybe even an NBA championship in the not-too-distant future.