The first thing Jeff Hornacek did after getting off the plane from Los Angeles Sunday was reach into his travel bag and pull out new T-shirts for his kids.
All three were draped, nearly from head to toe, in deep purple cotton that proudly proclaimed "Utah Jazz, 1998 Western Conference Champions.""They missed the celebration last year, because it was so late," Hornacek said.
Nearly 15,000 Jazz fans greeted the team at the Million Air terminal about 7:30 p.m. They chanted wildly. They waved signs, flags and, of course, brooms in celebration of the team's four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I'm here with my 14-year-old son," said Mike Barrett of West Valley City, who recalled a similar airport pilgrimage two decades ago to celebrate the Utah Stars' accomplishments. "I was his age when the Stars won their title. I brought him here to experience the same feeling I had."
It was that indescribable, irreplaceable feeling that drew fans from all over the state.
"This might never happen again," said Paul Harvey, 32, Price, who is certain the Jazz will continue their winning ways. "I missed it last year, so I wasn't going to miss it again. We're about to see destiny, and I want to remember what it feels like."
Brooms were everywhere - new ones, old ones, short ones, fat ones. But the Colwell and Wham families from Sandy had more than just about anyone - seven brooms in all.
"We are very clean families," Laura Wham said.
It was a nearly perfect series. And a nearly perfect homecoming.
But some fans pressed up against the security fence, the ones who'd been there the longest, wanting more. They wanted a speech.
"We've been out here for over two hours, waiting and waiting and waiting. Why didn't anybody make a speech?" wondered Anne Lee Mackay, who brought her 3-year-old granddaughter, Kiara, with her from Taylorsville for the home-coming.
Mackay wasn't the only member of the Jazz faithful who felt that way as a podium, sound system and stage draped in purple satin went unused.
"I still love the Jazz, but why didn't anybody speak? As a fan, I would have appreciated the recognition," said Vince McGuire, who drove from Layton to see his favorite team. "It's no way to treat the fans. We needed one spokesman. Even just one player."
Most players greeted family members and friends, then headed straight for their cars. Chris Morris, lured by TV reporters, got within a few feet of the stage but didn't step up to the mike.
"We can't do that right now. We still got one more round to go. We can't let anything distract us," Morris said.
He added as he drove his family out of the terminal parking lot, "I'm proud to see (the crowd). For me, myself, I'm glad to see this again."
Longtime Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley said fans are just going to have to be patient. Celebrating too early is the last thing the Jazz want to do, he said. In a way, that's what happened last year, Hundley said.
Even though the Jazz didn't jump to the podium after their 3 a.m. arrival from Houston, they still may have allowed themselves to get caught up in the emotional scene that greeted them a year ago.
"It's a little premature," Hundley said of Sunday's jubilation. "We did this last year and they got beat (in the Finals). . . . There's nothing to celebrate."
Ron Boone, Hundley's broadcast partner, said the mood on the Jazz's charter flight was very businesslike and subdued. There was very little rejoicing, if any, he said.
"Very low-key, just like a regular flight," Boone said. "They'll celebrate after they win it all."
Scott Layden, the team's vice president of basketball operations, concurred.
"Right now, the focus is getting ready for that first game" of the Finals, against either the Chicago Bulls or the Indiana Pacers, he said.
About half the players left quickly, driving around the back of the terminal and avoiding the zestful throng. But many fans who lined the terminal driveway and 2200 West were rewarded with an up-close-and-personal look at Coach Jerry Sloan and five players as they exited the airport.
As Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies escorted the cars on foot, fans mobbed the slow-moving vehicles. Many got autographs, handshakes and high fives from the likes of Karl Malone, Greg Foster, Greg Ostertag, Hornacek and Morris.
Malone, sitting in the passenger seat while his wife drove, signed shirts, cards - whatever fans gave him. Morris, too, was particularly receptive. And Sloan wore a broad smile as he shook and slapped hands along the route.
It took more than 20 minutes for those players' vehicles to reach the I-215 onramp. The cars were moving so slowly, some fans greeted each player, then ran ahead of the procession to see them pass by a second time.