Every time I come back here it feels like home because I spent like seven years here as a player then almost two years as an ambassador. —Mehmet Okur
SALT LAKE CITY — Roaming the sidelines of Vivint Arena ahead of the Jazz-Clippers tipoff Thursday, was a familiar face to Jazz Nation.
He stopped to chat with his former Jazz teammate-turned-announcer Matt Harpring, said “what’s up” to Rudy Gobert before his pregame routine, mingled with fans and even jumped in a few photos with them.
Former Jazz All-Star Mehmet Okur was back.
Not only did he attend Thursday’s game, he also popped into town to witness Tuesday’s win against the Lakers before flying back to his main residence in San Diego.
“Every time I come back here it feels like home because I spent like seven years here as a player then almost two years as an ambassador,” Okur said. “I was spending more time here than seeing my family, kids and all that. It’s just all good memories.”
Okur said his best memory of playing for Utah was the entire 2006-07 season, during which he made the All-Star game with teammate Carlos Boozer. The Jazz also reached the Western Conference Finals, with star guard Deron Williams running the show, but lost to the Spurs 4-1 — San Antonio would go on to win the title — but Okur said he'll never forget those times.
“In 2007, we made the Western Conference Finals. It was a good, good year for me individually and as a team,” Okur said. “As an individual, I made the All-Star team, I put up good numbers and we were winning.
“Our chemistry was there and we played together for like seven years,” he added. “That was the year for us, making the Western Conference Finals but we lost to San Antonio and they won it all the same year.”
Okur said he sees some similarities with this current Jazz group as they wrap up another solid season. The Jazz are 28-7 since Jan. 19 and currently hold the fourth seed in the Western Conference with three games remaining. He is confident that with the way this team is playing that they can make it past the first round, then after that it’s a tossup of how things will play out in his opinion.
“It’s amazing that they started slow then up to All-Star break they’ve been just killing it,” Okur said. “I think that’s the way it should be because you play, play, play but after All-Star break everything is different with getting ready for playoffs to get that feeling.
“They’re healthy, they’ve been together since then with (Rudy) Gobert back and Spida (Donovan Mitchell) who has been killing it and (Ricky) Rubio,” he added. “(Derrick) Favors has always been solid. The combination and chemistry and we’ll see where they go in the playoffs.”
Okur has joined a heap of other Jazz alumni who have returned to check out the red-hot group.
Both Karl Malone and John Stockton have made their way back as of late, as Stockton’s son, David, will reportedly finish the remainder of the season with the team after signing two 10-day contracts.
Former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is always around, Jae Crowder’s father, Corey, is often in the stands cheering on his son, Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith has been back to celebrate Mitchell’s dunk contest victory, Mark Eaton just hosted a book release in Vivint Arena and Okur still maintains his Utah ties from his seven seasons as a Jazzman (2004-11) so it was only right to come root for the boys.
Although it’s great for fans to see the former Jazz stars in attendance, Mitchell says he’s locked into what’s happening on the court — not the stands.
“No. I try not to because that allows you to get distracted and say, ‘Oh, my God,’” said Mitchell. “I just try to stay focused and continue to play the game.”
Okur, 38, says it’s fun to watch his former team as a fan now.
He no longer plays basketball, not even recreationally, but the “Money Man” continues to keep in shape through boxing, hiking, and other cardio activities such as running on a treadmill.
As Okur strolled around Vivint Arena, he didn’t appear to be chunky or overweight.
That’s certainly by design.
“Anytime I watch the news where something happens with former players where he died because of this reason or that reason, I’m kind of learning from them,” said Okur, who is just 20 pounds over his playing weight. “Hey, I’m done playing but I don’t want to end up like them so I’ve been doing my homework, cardio, watching the way I’m eating and drinking and so far I feel good.”
He’s also watching the Jazz and wishing them well.