When the Jazz went after free agent Julius Erving one summer, David Checketts and Frank Layden joined a sponsors' cruise and left owner Larry Miller to check out the situation by giving him Dr. J's phone number. The next thing anybody knew, Miller was in Philadelphia, trying to personally sign Erving.
The same thing has happened with the Jazz's arena plans. The hard-driving Miller is going all out on his latest project, joined by his personally selected architect, developer and building manager. Of not involving more Jazz staff members, Miller says, "We got so far into it that there was no way to turn it back effectively. It's been like a whole new full-time job for me."Checketts, the Jazz general manager, is envious of expansion franchises Orlando and Minnesota, running their own arenas. "I really think that's the best set-up, but that's his decision," he said. "It's been a little frustrating. He knows how he wants it done."
Of the Jazz's tenant status, Checketts said, "They may just turn the lights on for us; I don't know."
According to Miller, Checketts and his staff will have influence. "I'm sure there's going to have to be a lot of crossover," Miller assured. "As a practical matter, they'll end up doing a lot of the management and a lot of the marketing."
For one thing, Miller says he needs the help to meet his goal of breaking ground in June. "I'm better off dispersing as much as I possibly can, and not holding things up," said Miller, who has narrowed his possible choices for the $45 million funding to four lenders.
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BIRD'S VIEW: The success of Michael Jordan's move to point guard has impressed Larry Bird. "I guess they finally found a position he could play," Bird told the Hartford Courant. "I would have never thought that was going to work. It's unbelievable. As much of a force as he was before, he's even more of one now."
Bird also likes the look of the Celtics with newcomers Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, as they try to hold off Washington and make the playoffs. "We're a lot better now and the trade had a lot to do with it," he said. "I never would have thought that we could trade Danny Ainge and be a better team for it. He came to play every night, and he had that outside shooting ability."
Bird calls ex-Ute Kelvin Upshaw "the biggest surprise of all."
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AT RANDOM: Having raised his scoring average from 7.5 to 22.9, Kelly Tripucka is not far behind the all-time most-improved player. Dale Ellis went from 7.1 to 24.9 after being traded from Dallas to Seattle . . . Moses Malone is solidly among the 58 percent of NBA players in an Associated Press poll who would turn down the Olympics. Moses' logic: "They ain't paying. My free time is over. I gave that on the sandlot. It's a waste of time." . . .
While the Jazz will win 50 games while losing twice to expansion teams, the Knicks are doing the same with three expansion losses - two to Charlotte, one to Miami. . . . Described on an ESPN telecast as the "Larry Bird of the CBA," former Ute/Jazzman Pace Mannion is leading Rockford against Tulsa in the CBA finals. Mannion, who was in and out of Rockford all season while playing on two 10-day contracts each with Detroit and Atlanta, averaged 27.3 points in the semifinal series against Rapid City.