In sharp contrast to the first division title in the Utah Jazz's always improving history, the second one was realized in the Salt Palace Friday night without a lot of, well, hoopla.
No sooner did the Jazz dispatch of the Houston Rockets than the players retreated to the locker room, where they celebrated the clinching of the 1988-89 Midwest Division championship by applying ice packs to their knees and ankles and talking about the next night's game at Portland.There were no champagne dunkings. No speeches. Nobody made an emotional tribute to anybody else. The president didn't call. Or the mayor.
The team wore the look of people still being chased by a posse. Anyone who had wandered into the locker room by mistake might have wondered when the second half was going to start - and how many points were the Jazz down?
"We have a lot of steps left to go," said Thurl Bailey. "This is just the first one. It's not like the last time."
"I think it was appropriate to have champagne and wine and a full-scale celebration the last time," added Darrell Griffith. "This time it doesn't fit. This time we're a long way from where we want to be."
The last time Bailey and Griffith were referring to was 1983-84, when the Jazz clinched their only other divisional title in the 15-year New Orleans/Utah history. They were starters on that team. Along with Bobby Hansen and Mark Eaton, they comprise the only human remnants of that championship season.
The clincher that year came on April 12, 1984 - exactly five years and two days from last night's Clincher II. The San Diego Clippers were the victim as Adrian Dantley had 31 points in an easy 113-94 win. A not-quite-sellout crowd of 12,057 looked on.
"The difference was, nobody thought we'd win it that year," said Griffith. "It was a season where we proved all the critics wrong. It was much more than was expected of us."
So they partied into the night.
Well, not exactly into the night. There was still one more game to go in to the season - at San Diego two nights later. But the locker room got pretty sloshed up anyway, as did a few of the players, and coach Frank Layden was given his appropriate dousings.
"I suppose that one meant more," said Eaton, who started at center. "It was the first divisional title, the first time in the playoffs, and all that. Now, it's a great thing, but just part of what we want to accomplish."
Hansen was, like Bailey, a rookie on that team. His playing time was minimal. "My main recollections of that season were how well we started out, in November," he said. "That's what got us the title."
In the first-time-in-Jazz-history playoffs in '83-84, the Jazz got past Denver in five games and then lost in six games to Phoenix.
Although the team's playoff string hasn't been interrupted since, the Midwest title eluded the Jazz for five years - until last night, when the clinching win came easily, both against Houston in the game, and with five games still to play in the season.
There was no sparing of title-esque enthusiasm from the sellout crowd. Scalpers did a brisk Clinch-Night business before the game, and when the Jazz counted down the final seconds of the fourth quarter, there were the appropriate standing ovations.
The Jazz had reason to be proud of themselves. Smug, even. The game was full of Jazz trademarks that have endured these past five years. Eaton's blocks; Bailey's jumpers and hook shots (a new wrinkle added since '84); Hansen's defense; and Griffith's prolific scoring ability. Mixed in as well were all of the newer Jazz trademarks. John Stockton had a particularly fine evening spotting Karl Malone in full stride filling the outside lanes.
But this was not a team ready to cut down any nets, or sit on any divisional championship laurels. Or spray each other with champagne.
They had the champagne option, and they turned it down. Earlier in the week, anticipating that the moment might occur Friday night, coach Jerry Sloan asked Amy Bombard of the p.r. staff to buy two cases (24 bottles) of champagne. She did - 24 bottles of Korbel, extra dry - and left them in the trunk of p.r. director Kim Turner's car.
There they stayed. When Sloan told the team of his party plans, they said they'd rather not.
"What people remember are the playoffs," said Griffith. "We've still got a lot of business to take care of before there will be any champagne popping in this locker room. Hopefully that will be in June, and CBS will televise it."