In tribute to the opening of another NBA season, and to a Utah Jazz team that is coming off the best season in its history and is projected to do even better in 1988-89, Friday night's home opener in the Salt Palace between Seattle and the Jazz was a first-class affair.
Black-tie invited, as a matter of fact.The same attire that will be suitable for the Inaugural Balls come January, the same attire suitable for debutante coming-out parties, and Broadway galas - that was what was in for the Jazz opener. All the pre-game ads had it printed prominently in black and white: "Black-tie invited."
It was a risky move for a basketball crowd.
As anyone who's read Emily Post, or Dorothy Manners, is well aware, "Black-tie invited" does not mean you can or you can't. It means either show up in a tuxedo or live with the shame. This is not an option play.
By unofficial count, only about 75 people from the sellout crowd of 12,444 can still, after this night, hold their chins up and walk around with any dignity.
Still, there were enough designer gowns and hand-tied bow ties to make the evening more than just another night in the gym.
Of course the Jazz 100 club members, most of whom have $100-per-game seats courtside, did show up in full tuxes. But that was no big deal. They didn't have to rent them.
"They asked us to wear black tie, so we did," shrugged real estate developer John Laub.
Jazz superfan Big John Sudbury, sitting in the same seat and eating the same peanuts for the 10th opening night in 10 Jazz Utah-years, was not wearing black tie. "It's tough to get an XXXX at King's Row," said Big John, "so I decided to wear the same thing I wore the first year the Jazz were here."
No sports writers showed up in black ties either. "It's a blue collar job," explained Lex Hemphill of the Salt Lake Tribune.
Most of the Jazz staff were in rented tuxedoes - with green bow ties - although Jazz owner Larry Miller was not. His idea of black tie was a green golf shirt with a "Utah Jazz" logo.
The players were not in black tie, not even Mike Brown or Bobby Hansen, who were injured and wore regular business suits for their introductions - the better to renegotiate contracts in. Jazz president Dave Checketts was also suitably dressed in a business suit, and was prepared to reveal some contract re-deals later in the evening.
The Jazz were already ahead of budget after their bid to secure a laser show for opening night was turned down. The laser people instead took a better offer tendered by the Miami Heat, who were going for broke at their opening night festivities. Checketts said he'd heard the Heat had budgeted $35,000 for their first-ever game in the NBA.
The Jazz budgeted a mere $2,500 - not counting the $5,000 they were willing to spend on the laser show - and that included the tuxedo rentals, the green and gold balloons hung from the ceiling, and the beacon outside the Salt Palace entrance.
Anyway, the Jazz don't have to worry this season about glitz, glitter and super market promotions to fill the arena. A franchise-high 10,800 season seats were sold prior to opening night, leaving just 1,644 seats available on any given night this entire season.
All this team has to worry about is living up to its new, classier reputation; about keeping pace with the likes of Los Angeles, Portland, Dallas, Houston and Seattle as the social elite of the Western Conference.
This is a franchise-in-transition no longer. This is a second-rate team no longer. This is an outfit that ought to know how to wear a cummerbund.
Or at least that was the idea on opening night.
This team has status in its community, with one of the best addresses in town.
There was no heckling the home team during this year's opener, no booing coach Frank Layden either - who, by the way, was not in black tie but was looking rather dignified with his newfound status as a political spokesman.
Layden was drafted this week by the anti-tax inititiative proponents to deliver radio ads on their behalf.
Such is the regard anyone associated with the Utah Jazz is held in these days. Even the politicians want them. The 1988-89 season came in with style. Only six more months to go - although the tuxedoes had to be returned by midnight.