Twenty-five years ago, the NBA's Jazz came to live in Utah's old Salt Palace.
They enter their 26th season in Utah Wednesday when the Los Angeles Lakers make an 8:30 p.m. visit to Larry H. Miller's Delta Center.
They played their 25th season in Utah in 2003-04.
Other than the team wearing replicas of the 1979-80 jerseys as part of the NBA's league-wide "retro nights" promotion last season and a KJZZ-TV video, little has been made about the silver anniversaries.
There have been a few news stories to mark the 25 years but no emphasis from the team.
"We'll do it on the 50th," said Jazz marketing and sales senior vice president Jay Francis with a laugh.
Kind of like the husband who knows his wedding anniversary is near but figures he still has time and then forgets, the Jazz talked a little before last season about some sort of commemoration but never got to it.
"There wasn't a decision not to do anything. We just had so many irons in the fire," said Francis. "It's not too late to do that."
The whole Larry H. Miller Group turned 25 in the last year, and corporate celebrations were held and a silver anniversary logo was designed for that. The Jazz were part of those internal affairs.
Miller didn't buy into the team until purchasing half for $8 million from Sam Battistone in April 1985 and the other half in 1986 for $14 million. This will be Miller's 20th season of ownership.
"It's really 30 years for us," says Battistone, whose nine-person group started the NBA's 18th franchise in New Orleans in 1974-75. That club played for high rent in the Superdome, poorly designed for basketball, and shared no profitable perks like concessions or parking and was kicked out every year for Mardi Gras. Battistone and Larry Hatfield moved the Jazz to Utah five years later after urging from Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce president Fred Ball, Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson and Deseret News publisher Wendell Ashton, who mounted a season-ticket pre-selling campaign of 5,800 takers to impress the NBA enough to allow the move.
Battistone, now operator of the Field of Dreams stores and living in Las Vegas, still has season tickets and watches Jazz games on satellite.
He's thought about the anniversary lately because people have called him about it, bringing back floods of memories from his relationships with Wilson, Ball, Ashton, financial advisor Spence Eccles, players and original season ticket-holders. "They went through a lot," he says, but he calls the whole thing "an enjoyable process," says he's glad he kept the Jazz name and, "To me, it was successful," even though he had to eventually sell.
He wishes gimpy-kneed Pete Maravich, who never really came back from surgery a year earlier, had been able to show Utahns his original court magic.
Maravich and 6-foot-8 center James Hardy moved to Utah with the franchise, which signed Frank Layden as general manager in May 1979 and Tom Nissalke as coach in June 1979.
"I liked having the opportunity to come here," says Nissalke, who'd coached the Utah Stars of the ABA. Now a KFNZ-1320 radio host, Nissalke did nothing personally to note 25 years.
He's not surprised the Jazz passed on it. "It might have been that the memories weren't that sweet. There really wasn't much to make of it," Nissalke said, remembering an underfunded franchise that blundered in New Orleans notably trading the draft pick that would become Magic Johnson and continued to struggle in Utah with decisions without cash to adequately scout draft choices or investigate backgrounds.
Utah's 1979 first-round draftee, Larry Knight of Loyola-Chicago, never even made the roster, but Nissalke doubts anybody from the team saw him play before making the pick. When Utah traded first-rounder Dominique Wilkins to Atlanta for $1 million plus John Drew and Freeman Williams in 1982, Nissalke, fired by then, says he doubts the team had the money to have checked out Drew, a drug user.
Utah made some good moves, like the Sept. 13, 1979, trade that sent washed-up Spencer Haywood to the Lakers for future NBA All-Star Adrian Dantley, acquiring a talented Bernard King and still-good Ron Boone in October of that first year, drafting "Dr. Dunkenstein (Darrell Griffith)" in June 1980 and plucking Rickey Green and Jeff Wilkins from the CBA in December 1980.
But King was gone soon after a Jan. 1, 1980, sexual-assault case; Terry Furlow died with cocaine in his blood in a car accident in summer 1980 and Bill Robinzine committed suicide in September 1982.
"Gosh, the 25 years went by real fast," said Layden who lives in the condominium complex where King got into trouble recalling opening-night attendance (7,867). "I think we were outdrawn by the Golden Eagles (minor-league hockey team). There wasn't a great deal of excitement."
Battistone thanks Layden for generating interest with tireless work in the public and legendary humor.
"I tried to look at it as a fun time," Layden said. His brightest memories included winning the 1984 Midwest Division and making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and the Woody Paige statement in the Denver Post that the Jazz had no heart, which bonded Utah fans and their team. Utah won the series 3-2. He also recalls the 1988 conference semifinals when the Jazz took the Lakers to seven games.
Worst was "the conflict" of dealing as GM/coach with players and agents, and he says his biggest mistake was alienating his all-star trying to save a little money dickering with agent David Falk and Dantley. "I handled it very badly," says Layden. He wishes Dantley had finished his career with Utah.
In 1979, Nissalke didn't think the Jazz would last five years.
Now, as The Next 25 Years begins, he sees a future. "Yeah, I do," he says, explaining that Battistone and Hatfield didn't have the wherewithal to do it, but Miller does and, "He wants to be in the game. As long as Larry is in ownership, they're in position to be in the game," Nissalke predicts, citing last summer's big-money free agents Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. There are also the re-signings of Carlos Arroyo, Gordan Giricek and Jarron Collins and extension of Andrei Kirilenko.
"I hope it's another 100 years," says Layden, who cautions that the Dodgers left Brooklyn, the Lakers left Minneapolis and "all professional sports are very fragile now, with what you see in hockey and the upcoming (NBA) bargaining agreement."
JAZZ ANNIVERSARIES OF 1979-80
May 9, 1979 Frank Layden hired as general manager of the Jazz team that is planning to move from New Orleans to Utah.
June 8, 1979 NBA Board of Governors approves move of Jazz from New Orleans to Utah.
June 18, 1979 Tom Nissalke signed as Jazz coach, lasts until being replaced by Frank Layden, Dec. 10, 1981.
June 25, 1979 Jazz draft Larry Knight of Chicago's Loyola University as their first first-rounder in Utah. He's cut in training camp.
Sept. 13, 1979 Jazz trade Spencer Haywood to Los Angeles for Adrian Dantley.
Oct. 12, 1979 Utah Jazz first loss, 101-85 at Portland. Dantley scored 26 points. First Utah Jazz starting lineup: Dantley, Bernard King, James Hardy, Pete Maravich, Don "Duck" Williams.
Oct. 22, 1979Utah Jazz first win, 110-109 vs. San Diego at Salt Palace. Maravich has 28 points.
Oct. 25, 1979 Acquired Ron Boone from Los Angeles for future draft pick.
Nov. 21, 1979 The Jazz lose for a team-record 13th straight game at Detroit, 98-93.
Nov. 27, 1979 Dantley scores 50 points against his old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, in a 122-118 loss in the Salt Palace. Maravich was kept on the bench for that game and never played again in a Jazz uniform. The team acquired Terry Furlow the next day.
Dec. 2, 1979 Dantley is the franchise's first NBA Player of the Week.
Jan. 1, 1980 King arrested on five felony sex charges in Salt Lake City condominium
Jan. 18, 1980 Put Maravich on waivers; he signs quickly with Boston and finishes out the season.
Jan. 28, 1980 First 12,000-plus crowd in Salt Palace, 12,281, for Philadelphia and Julius Erving. Utah wins 107-101.
Feb. 4, 1980 Dantley, in first NBA All-Star Game, scores team-high 23 points.
Feb. 21, 1980 Dantley signed to a new five-year contract.
E-mail: [email protected]