Even after completing his tour of the NBA's new arenas, center Mark Eaton is not all that anxious for the Jazz to leave the Salt Palace in 1991-92. "It's more the crowd than what the facilities look like," Eaton says of homecourt comfort. "We could have more seats, and if they're not all filled, it could be quieter."
Owner Larry Miller is already handling that issue. In a staff meeting this week, Miller delivered the marketing challenge: "We will play to no empty seats," he said. "That is very do-able."The Jazz have had 703 unsold seats this season, all for a November game against Sacramento. They've sold out all but three games in two seasons, and Miller is banking that 18,500 seats will be just the right number in a new building.
About 1,600 of those tickets will be for 80 luxury suites, built on two middle levels. Miller had a five-person team visit other new arenas, and will draw from them in the design of his yet-unnamed building.
Miller is considering the Sacramento/Arco Arena approach, selling the name in a multi-million dollar rights package to help defray his $45 million cost, although the list of potential local sponsors is not long - there's already a Huntsman Center in town. "That's an option that's definitely open to us as a revenue source," he said. "We're not going to give it away, though."
Of the project in general, Miller says, "This thing is moving rather quickly."
***** STRONG CANDIDATE: Described as "Sixth Man Award candidate Thurl Bailey" for four seasons, Jazz forward has drawn little consideration from the nationwide media panel in the past. This year could be different, with 1988 winner Roy Tarpley out of the picture and the Jazz having their best season.
Aside from Tarpley, Bailey's chances were hurt last season by this apparent sentiment: Because Bailey was playing "starter's minutes," he was not a true sixth man. "I resented it, in the fact that I remember (Kevin) McHale doing it," Bailey says.
He's right. McHale played 33.7 minutes when he won his second award in 1984-85; Bailey is averaging 33.6 minutes. Bailey was endorsed in a midseason NBA players' survey and said, "It's great to know the players around the league think that way about me. That's honor enough right there."
***** CELTIC REVIVAL: Who needs Larry Bird? Boston has Kelvin Upshaw. In wins over Denver, New Jersey and Indiana, the ex-Ute guard totaled 23 points, rivaling the Jazz's Jim Farmer for the best performance on a 10-day contract in the NBA this season. Before losing at Detroit Friday, when Upshaw scored 13 points, the Celtics reached two games above .500 for the first time.
Coach Jimmy Rodgers said of Upshaw, "He keeps the tempo going and pushes it up the floor. That's what we want."
***** AT RANDOM: After all the madness involving Jose Ortiz, Karl Malone, Bailey and John Stockton in the last year, Jazz general manager David Checketts will have a fairly easy summer. His biggest assignment is Eaton, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the '89-90 season. Otherwise, he'll only have to worry about free agents Mike Brown, Marc Iavaroni and Farmer. That's assuming Malone takes a year off from renegotiating . . . The first genuine endorsement of the Jazz as an NBA title favorite comes from ex-Knick Earl Monroe, who picks his team to lose to the Jazz in the finals.
Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan will be closely following the NCAA action in Tucson today. He played at Evansville and his son, Brian, plays for Indiana. If both teams win, they'll meet in the West Regionals in Denver Thursday and Sloan will likely be able to attend the game . . . "In the past, I've left jobs when we've done well. I don't want to leave this team when we're not doing well," says San Antonio Coach Larry Brown.
If a one-year tradition holds, the Jazz players will have to vote for a team MVP in the next few weeks, for a Chamber of Commerce awards banquet. They elected John Stockton over Karl Malone last April, and Chicago Coach Doug Collins would agree with their logic. "I'm beginning to think that the way the game is going, the point guard might be the most important guy on the team," he said. "Every good team has a good point guard. And the way defenses are playing big men, immediately double-teaming them as soon as they get the ball, the point guard who can slash and make the jump shot is even that much more valuable."
Miami's Rony Seikaly underestimated his 10-game winning team: "I thought one a month would be good," he said . . . Washington Coach Wes Unseld, not exactly milquetoast as a player, is tired of Detroit's tactics. "They like to foster this tough-guy image in Detroit," he noted, "but it's sure not basketball."