If rain is somehow a good omen for the Utah Jazz, then Saturday was a good day to be among thousands of fans who greeted their beloved team at the Salt Lake airport hours after Friday's victory against the Chicago Bulls.
Some 2,500 fans from Ogden to Spanish Fork chanted, waved flags, bought Jazz paraphernalia from vendors, and even practiced their shots on a portable hoop. All that through hours of a stubborn drizzle that, as if on cue, only stopped momentarily during the Jazz's 3 a.m. arrival.It's a typical fan reaction to a pivotal victory, according to airport security officers who kept watch over the crowd. But Saturday's gathering was mild compared to the 15,000 that showed up to greet the team after winning the second consecutive Western Conference Championship in Los Angeles two weeks ago.
"We can see the grass, so it's pretty mellow," said airport security officer Todd Farr. More people would probably have come Saturday had the weather not been so uncooperative.
Among those that were there for the first time, Angela and Kevin Carpenter said their children, Ridge, 8, and Alexis, 3, both huge Jazz fans, convinced them to drive down from Hill Air Force Base to hopefully get a glimpse of their favorite players.
"We've never been basketball fans until now," said Kevin Carpenter, who moved his family to Utah from Sandusky, Ohio, five years ago. "Now we never want to leave."
"Can John Stockton sleep over in our house?" a sleepy Alexis wanted to know.
Debbie Phillips and friend Julie Roberts also arrived early with a homemade sign that in part read, "We've made history. Finish that Bulls . . . ."
"They won game five big time," Phillips said. But "we were going to come here with this sign no matter what."
Unfortunately, the Jazz's arrival proved more anticlimactic than many expected. Most of the players, including superstars Karl Malone and John Stockton, left the runway through a private exit. Only a handful of spectators who arrived early enough to line up against the fence caught a distant glimpse of them.
Greg Foster, among the few players who drove through the throng of Jazz followers, commented that "it's great to see all those people out here, to have all that support. This is what we need coming home."
But many were disappointed not to see their favorites.
"Malone had a big game and I was hoping he'd come out here and see how much support we're giving to them," said Troy Jones, Layton, after a two-hour wait.
Police said the crowd kept in control and no unpleasant incidents were reported. Elsewhere, at least one man was arrested in connection with a Jazz victory celebration.
Shortly after the game ended, Salt Lake police officer Jody Whitaker stopped a Range Rover northbound on State Street near 100 South where a man was waving a Jazz flag while standing up in the vehicle, according to a police report.
The man could not produce an identification card and the officer asked him to step out of the vehicle, the report states.
"He was yelling at me about the Jazz winning," Whitaker wrote. When the man refused to put the Jazz banner down, he was handcuffed and placed on the ground where he managed to kick assisting officer John Beener in the chin, the report states.