Suppose you're at today's playoff game, and a few rows ahead, there's this guy rising and sitting, rising and sitting, gesturing and shouting at the refs. He looks familiar tall, earnest and wearing a really nice suit.
Can't be Jerry Sloan, because he's on the court.
It's Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's general manager and all-around fan.
"You're either in it or you're not in it," said O'Connor.
"But when you're in it, you get in with both feet."
O'Connor being a two-feet-in kind of guy.
"My dear wife can attest to that," he said.
Nobody ever said being a G.M. and a fan were mutually exclusive.
"It's an incredible opportunity, but it's wearing," he continued, "and if you have to have the passion for it, to get up the next morning and go to work and try to figure out a way, that's fine. But if you can't have that, then somebody else does."
That somebody is possibly the Los Angeles Lakers, who enter today's game with a 2-1 lead in their conference semifinal series with the Jazz. But they won't be getting a free pass from O'Connor. All those foul calls in Kobe Bryant's favor? O'Connor will be contesting a lot of them, though not in an official capacity. In an emotional one.
When O'Connor doesn't like the way games are being called, he lets the officials know. He's animated. He's stepping into the aisle. He's acting like he paid for his ticket.
One step further and he'd be wearing grease paint.
"I think you always feel like you're in the games," O'Connor said. "If you're a player, you really control it. When you're a coach, you control it a little bit less. And when you're sitting in the stands, you feel like you have no control. That's why I yell. That's why I'm a fan."
O'Connor comes by his animation honestly. He's been at all of the aforementioned levels player, coach, fan. The son of a New York City cop who became chief of police in Syracuse, N.Y., he served two years in the Army, assisting with eye, ear, nose and throat treatment.
He gained degrees in economics and business from Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, where he captained a basketball team that went 21-5 his senior year. That was when he was fully in the game. The next step came when he worked as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, VMI, Colorado and UCLA.
His background includes three uncles who played college and/or professional sports.
O'Connor considered following his father into law enforcement but instead took a job as volunteer JV coach at a high school. He was hooked on being in the game, or at least as close as you can get wearing a necktie.
It wasn't exactly a rocket ride to the front office. He spent 11 years as a college assistant. He was also a scout with several NBA teams, including the Jazz, Sixers and Nets. But, he says, there's no clear-cut path to sports management.
"Most of the guys (in management) either played for a team in some form, or coached, or maybe they were in broadcasting or something like that. But it's good to have a godfather."
O'Connor's "godfather" was Larry Brown, who hired him as an assistant coach at UCLA, as well as player personnel director in Philadelphia.
Nine years ago, O'Connor came to Utah.
Before getting into administration, he scouted and served as a rep for a clothing company. Hence, the tailored suits with the hand-sewn buttonholes, the broadcloth shirts with single-needle stitching, the contrasting silk ties and cap-toed soft leather shoes.
What did he learn from his days in the clothing business?
"What I can tell is that all the players' stuff is tailor made," he said. "They pay a lot of money for it. Problem is, they have to. It's very difficult to find something to fit them. You don't get it off the rack."
Not that he'd ever say clothing makes the man. Defense does.Still, nice threads do provide a good rule of thumb for any aspiring G.M.: It's OK to yell. Just make sure you look good doing it.
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