Ron Martinez had barely spoken to his neighbor across the street in the six years they'd lived in the same Midvale neighborhood.
During the NBA Finals, however, they had something in common - a passion for the Utah Jazz - that ultimately brought them together.Martinez also got to know other neighbors better. He made so many trips next door to watch games and talk Jazz with Jim Mon-a-han, the two finally decided to cut a man-size hole in the chicken-wire fence that separates their back yards.
"I was cutting, and he was telling me how to do it," Martinez, his hair dyed blue and purple, said Sunday a few hours before the series came to a close.
The Jazz didn't win the title, but they did succeed in bringing a lot of Utahns together.
During the past two weeks, all across the state, fans spent more time with neighbors, friends, family members and even total strangers than they would have under normal circumstances.
Long lost friends were reunited. Former classmates who hadn't spoken in years exchanged phone calls and e-mails. Sons called and e-mailed their mothers. Daughters called and e-mailed their fathers. In-laws had something they could agree on.
Carol Hunter and Kelli Hue-mil-ler, former classmates at Weber High School, ran into each other at the Delta Center for the first time in 15 years, then spent nearly every day together during the Finals.
Hunter's brother, Bryan Olson, flew in from San Francisco just for the Finals and brought along his fiancee. If not for the Jazz, Hunter might not have met her future sister-in-law before the wedding.
And Chris Cutshall wouldn't have tripled his phone bill. Cut-shall was on the phone daily, talking about the Jazz with former East High School classmates in Alabama, New York and San Fran-cis-co.
The Jazz's success rejoined Joe Ele-gante of Orem and Joe Ghir-ar-del-li of Price. The two 68-year-olds went to first grade together and have been friends ever since, a relationship Ghirardelli was especially thankful for during the past two weeks. Elegante bought a pair of tickets for Ghir-ar-del-li and his wife, Mary, to attend all three home Finals games and even gave them a place to stay.
The Finals promoted generosity, too. Josh Cashman of Salt Lake City, for example, was moved to buy a drink for a stranger - who also happened to be a Bulls fan.
Brent Robinson drove 1,500 miles to stay with old friends and see the Finals. Loy Smith of Draper talked to her sister in Riverton three times a day and called everyone else she knew to tell them she was going to a Finals game.
Sylvia Guevara of Salt Lake City made new friends in Chicago via a fax machine. Barbara Skroback of Sandy used her computer to get back in touch with friends back East. Don Ballard of Draper got together with his old basketball team for a celebratory pick-up game.
Despite the Finals, Denise Mason of Kaysville still wouldn't let her dad come to visit. But she e-mailed him more often down in St. George.
"I won't let him in my house because he bangs things up when the Jazz are losing," she said. "I usually e-mail him once a month. It's daily now - twice if we win."
Whether those phone calls, e-mails, front-yard conversations and neighborhood gatherings continue through the year is up to each fan. But even if only for a couple weeks, the Jazz gave their loyal supporters something in return - the chance to discover or rekindle something infinitely more valuable than their dislike for the Chicago Bulls.