SAY WHAT YOU want about the Utah Jazz. But they are not, and never have been, boring.
Even in the dead of winter, when you have to stretch your imagination to understand why any given game is significant - given the fact that a playoff berth is practically a foregone conclusion - the Jazz have a tendency to have something happening. On and off the court.Usually off.
This is the franchise that could play daytime TV.
When Sam Battistone was the owner there were always lots of verge-of-bankruptcy stories, with rumors of mergers and franchise moves; when Frank Layden was the coach there were abundant coach-player feud stories. Layden vs. Mel Turpin, Layden vs. Kelly Tripucka, Layden vs. Adrian Dantley, Layden vs. Rickey Green, Layden vs. Jeff Wilkins . . .
There have been midseason drug scandals, sex scandals, contract disputes, and, just last winter, there was the Jose Ortiz Search and Rescue operation, wherein the Jazz awoke one morning to the realization that the player they had used their No. 1 draft pick on was somewhere in Europe - and he wasn't sending back postcards.
All of the above has tended to make the job of Utah Jazz general manager comparable to, say, the judge on Night Court.
One time not too long ago, when the New York Knicks tried to lure away Jazz general manager Dave Checketts with a lucrative offer, he thought long and hard about it and then decided, naw, life would be too dull and dreary in Manhattan.
If he'd moved, he couldn't have spent this past New Year's Day trying to figure why, if two of his guards were going to have a difference of opinion on New Year's Eve, they couldn't have first checked with him to see if they were, you know, in any way breaching the code of conduct clause in their guaranteed contracts before any punches were thrown.
The story is all over town by now, about Bart Kofoed's party punch that sent Bobby Hansen to four hours of reconstructive face surgery. But Checketts was among the first in town to hear of it when his phone rang on New Year's Day at 5:30 a.m.
Jazz trainer Don Sparks was on the line.
"Bobby really took a hit," said Sparks. "He's got multiple fractures under the eye, over the eye, and under his nose."
"How did it happen?" asked Checketts.
Who was the perpetrator? Did he have mob connections? Did he have Detroit Pistons connections? Did they get the license number? Was it a disgruntled agent?
"Uh, it was one of our guys," said Sparky.
The irony was that when the Jazz first signed Kofoed they were impressed because he played a physical game. He was the type of guy who, even if he was a minimum-salary rookie, didn't back down. He swaggered like a football player. He played like The Terminator.
They would have preferred him to keep the swagger on-court, however.
Or, if he had an urge to have a little contact on New Year's Eve with a fellow NBA player, how about with somebody who wore a Lakers uniform?
Checketts spent New Year's Day interviewing everyone who was at the party. He talked to Kofoed. He talked to Hansen.
He talked to himself.
He pulled out Kofoed's $125,000 guaranteed contract and read the following: "The club may terminate this contract upon written notice to the player if the player shall do any of the following: 1) At any time, fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character and good sportsmanship, to keep himself in first class physical condition or to obey the club's training rules . . ."
He checked with Phil Marantz, the Jazz's legal counsel. They agreed that, if ever there was a time the above clause could be applied, now was the time.
Bart Kofoed had gone too far. He had used bad judgment. He had knocked out the club's leading off-guard.
Apparently - judging from the extent of the damages and the fact Kofoed didn't have a mark on him - Hansen never saw the punch coming.
Checketts wasn't surprised that Kofoed filed a grievance, through the NBA Players Association, and he expects a hearing, and possible arbitration.
And then maybe Kofoed could get a shot at Tyson.
"It's really a shame," said Checketts. "Bart Kofoed had it made here. But a guaranteed contract is more than just guaranteed by the club. It's guaranteed by the player as well."
The G.M. rolled his eyes. Pro basketball can be a strange business. One minute you can be sound asleep New Year's morning. The next minute you don't know what hit you.