If people think they should cheer, they should cheer. If they feel the need to boo, they should boo. I know one thing: When I was here I played hard, I tried my best. If some nights I did not be at that level, well, sorry. —Andrei Kirilenko
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz box scores just aren't what they used to be since Andrei Kirilenko left.
Some nights the totals were as lengthy as his Russian phone number. The man was always a threat for a 5X5 — five in each of each of five stat categories.
That was the intrigue of watching Kirilenko. On his best nights, he was in everyone's business: The defensive business, the assist business, the rebound business, the steals business, the scoring business, the shot-blocking business.
The all-over-the-amusement-park business.
It was like watching Bert, the street musician in "Mary Poppins," playing trumpet, squeeze horn, accordion, harmonica, drums, cymbals and tambourine all at once.
"I'm (still) trying to be everywhere on the court — steals, blocks, rebounds, whatever I can do for the team," he said prior to the Jazz's 106-84 win over Minnesota on Wednesday.
Not to mention what he can do for curious fans. Let's see, there's the 1950s greaser, the Mohawk, the mullet, the mop-top. The dragon tattoo angrily spread across his angular back.
No doubt about it, when Kirilenko left, so did one of the most interesting Jazz personalities since Darryl Dawkins.
Most people remember the day Kirilenko wept in confusion over his role in Jerry Sloan's offense, and the time his wife said she'd allow A.K. a free extramarital dalliance per year — an offer he now dismisses as an inside joke. He left the Jazz to play in Russia during the lockout of 2011. He could have returned to the NBA once the lockout ended, but instead stayed with his CSKA Moscow team, saying fans and teammates were counting on him.
But fewer Jazz fans may recall that for a season he was the Jazz's best player. After Stockton and Malone, but before Boozer and Williams, Kirilenko was the top attraction. He was an All-Star in that 2003-04 season, averaging about 16 points, three blocks, three assists, two steals, and eight rebounds.
Good years and so-so years, with Kirilenko there was always the character factor. He said on Wednesday that his highest wish is to be a good person, not just a good player. He poured money into causes such as underprivileged or abused children. Near the end of his time in Utah, he offered to let the Jazz out of their contract if they felt he wasn't earning his money.
The only problem was that he never was the superstar Jazz fans hoped he'd be. That wasn't due to lack of effort. It's that he did a lot of little things, but dominated nothing.
He was too unpredictable to be a pure scorer, too thin to be a physical rebounder, too slow to blaze to the basket. But long arms and uncanny timing made him a quirky offensive threat and a fine help defender. He still often draws the opponents' best player. In the same week this season he guarded LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden.
His appearance at ESA wasn't on the level of a Karl Malone night. But that doesn't mean he isn't still a story. Media flocked to the shoot-around on Wednesday morning, more showing up for pregame questions. Same questions, same answers — except maybe this one: "Do you miss the smell of brine shrimp?"
"Well, everything but it," he said.
Later he did postgame interviews, walked to the team family lounge, spoke with ex-teammate Matt Harpring, then unnecessarily paused for more interviews on his way out.
Bad guys don't usually do such things.
He received a nice ovation during pregame introductions, but no boos.
"If people think they should cheer, they should cheer," he said. "If they feel the need to boo, they should boo. I know one thing: When I was here I played hard, I tried my best. If some nights I did not be at that level, well, sorry."
Actually, he was at that level in the first quarter, racking up six points, five rebounds, an assist and two blocks. You could picture the stat keepers clapping. He followed a missed shot for a score, slipped behind DeMarre Caroll to deflect a shot, flicked a one-handed assist to Nikola Pekovic for a layup.
It didn't last, as he finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Still, Kirilenko is playing his best basketball since 2005-06 and having his best-shooting year ever. He has six double-doubles this season, 85 in his career. He is six assists and two steals away from becoming the 15th player in league history to record 2,000 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocks.
All of which he handled on Wednesday with a customary shrug. Part of the job, he said, part of what he did for Utah for a decade.
"I played 10 years, every year, different role," he said. "Right now I play pretty good basketball and I'm very happy in my role."
His role as both a good guy and a box score freak?
It's still making people do a double take.
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