Karl Malone, sporting Elvis-style sideburns, blasted unnamed teammates for being "fat (expletives)" one year ago. Greg Ostertag, after huffing and puffing his way up and down the floor a few times, could do nothing but agree with the then-reigning NBA MVP - pointing an accusatory finger squarely at himself. At the same time, Bryon Russell was boasting that he was planning on being an all-star by midseason and John Stockton was discovering some swelling in his knee after practice.
The Utah Jazz opened training camp for the 1997-98 season one year ago today.It's that time of year again. It's time for Utah Jazz camp to begin with Malone in better shape than ever, testing the strength of his now-healed right index finger and explaining some of the comments he made during the offseason about the possibility of leaving the only NBA team he's ever played for. It's time for Ostertag, whose six-year deal worth a cool $40 million kicks in this year, to prove (or disprove) that he worked out this summer and that he shows no ill effect from his bout with meningitis.
It's time for Adam Keefe to test out the slow-to-recover foot that's bothered him since February. It's time for Jerry Sloan to yell a few words he didn't learn in Sunday School at Greg Foster for not running a play a way it was drawn up. It's time for Stockton and Jeff Hornacek to teach youngsters like Jacque Vaughn and Shandon Anderson a few tricks. It's time for free agents Chris Morris and Antoine Carr to know what team they'll play on. It's time for rookie Torraye Braggs to act cocky on the outside, but to feel intimidated inside.
It's early October. It's time for Jazz training camp.
But camp won't start, as previously advertised, on Tuesday in St. George. It's been postponed - indefinitely. When (if?) the season ever starts, an abbreviated training camp will take place, but it won't be held in St. George. Dixie College athletic director John Wardenburg has been told by Jazz vice president Scott Layden that due to the postponement training camp will be in Salt Lake this year. Layden, thanks to the NBA's gag order concerning lockout talk, cannot comment.
One Jazz exhibition game has already been canceled. Others exhibitions are expected to be called off early next week. The start of the regular season on Nov. 3, in fact, has all but been postponed. There's even talk about the whole season being scratched.
It's not a pretty picture for the one major professional sports league that had never lost a game to labor strife in its history - until now. The NBA lockout is into its fourth month, but only recently has it started to sink in that games will be missed.
The Jazz front office, like Malone, worked during the summer months as if it were business as usual for the most part. Advertisements for ticket packages ran as usual. Utah fans didn't seem too concerned either. The Jazz report an impressive 97-percent renewal rate for their season ticket holders and have sold an additional 500 season packages. They've also sold nearly 2,900 mini-packages. Of course, the buyers have been assured that they will get their money back - plus 6 percent interest - for any games that are canceled.
"We had a lot more questions from ticket buyers without a lot of answers until the NBA announced its refund policy," said Jazz senior vice president of marketing Jay Francis. "But so far, we've just worked and gotten ready for the season as if everything were OK. We had to do that because we have to be able to be ready once the season does start."
The Jazz front office, from owner Larry H. Miller on down, as per league instruction, has had no contact with players during the lockout and cannot discuss their feelings about the labor dispute to the media.
Instead, it's been up to NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Russ Granik to do the talking for the league. Union director Billy Hunter has been the main spokesman for the players, although they and their agents can voice their opinions on the subject. None of them have been overly optimistic.
The sides will meet again on Thursday, but don't appear close to making much ground on the major sticking point - the salary cap. The union wants the cap to remain "soft" - meaning teams can sign their own free agents to any amount regardless of whether they are over the cap. The owners want a "hard" cap.
Arbitrator John Feerick could rule any day between now and Oct. 19 on whether the players with guaranteed contracts should be paid during the lockout. But no matter which way Feerick rules, it won't necessarily speed the process up. If the players win, the owners are likely to appeal the ruling. If the owners win, the players claim they still have the resolve to miss paychecks in order to keep what they are fighting for - a soft cap.
One person who is surprisingly upbeat is Malone's new agent Dwight Manley.
"I think it will be resolved sooner rather than later," said Manley. "Both sides win by resolving it and both sides lose the longer it goes on. It's just common sense that it should be resolved quickly."
While Jazz fans may not agree with Malone's agent on everything he says, most have to hope he's right about this one.