SALT LAKE CITY — Last year in the playoffs, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul called Jazz fans “complete homers.” He could have called them “mouth-breathing troglodytes” and the indignation wouldn’t have been greater.
He got mercilessly booed when the Clippers came back to Salt Lake.
Apparently it’s OK to call yourselves homers, just so long no one else does.
In the second round, the Golden State Warriors were unapologetic about their disdain for Utah. Matt Barnes mocked Salt Lake’s entertainment scene, which inspired the popular #nightlife logo tee.
But this year, Salt Lake should get a break in this first-round series against Oklahoma City.
Boredom Central, say hello to Sleepyville — one cow town to another.
If there’s any team that can sympathize with the Jazz’s small-market woes, it’s the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s Combined Statistical Area population is 1.4 million, Salt Lake’s is 2.5 million.
Los Angeles can fit that in its beach satchel.
Big-market, small-market drama has always been an easy and obvious angle that surfaces somewhere annually. It happened when the Jazz played the Bulls in the NBA Finals, and it occurs every time Utah plays an L.A. or Bay Area team. But when two small-market teams meet, that storyline fades.
Though both Salt Lake and Oklahoma City are in flyover territory, that doesn’t mean they lack community involvement. Their fan bases are delirious.
In reality, bigger-market teams have no business saying Utah and Oklahoma City are boring. Who isn’t dying to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in OKC? In Utah, you can hike to Grandeur Peak in the morning and pig out at Crown Burger in the afternoon and ... and
While both fan bases are known for rudeness, they ought to be sympathizing with one another. Each knows the pain of losing a star to a higher-profile organization. Oklahomans raged when Kevin Durant left for Golden State as a free agent. Gordon Hayward’s departure from Utah last summer wasn’t exactly a sentimental farewell.
Both players penned hollow farewells to their cities via The Players’ Tribune.
Although OKC and Salt Lake have recovered nicely on the court, the mental part is ongoing. Separation anxiety is a fact of life in both markets.
“Oklahoma City lived with the constant fear of Durant leaving because that's what people from Oklahoma do: grow up, get good at something and then move on to a bigger and better place,” wrote ESPN’s Royce Young in 2017.
The #Stayward campaign comes to mind.
Backlash is never pretty. Thunder fans bought toilet paper with Durant’s face imprinted. Some Jazz fans openly celebrated online when Hayward suffered a gruesome season-ending ankle injury last fall.
Utah and OKC fans have both been labeled rednecks. True or not, they can concurrently be insensitive (Derek Fisher and the “eye-mocking” photo) and overly sensitive (Bison Dele and brine shrimp).
If Utah and Oklahoma actually have an inferiority complex, it goes deeper than just market size. These states were forged in tribulation. Oklahoma’s census swelled with the Land Rush of 1889, but drastically dipped during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Utah sprang up when Mormon pioneers moved west to escape persecution in Missouri, Illinois and Ohio.
Both places have thrived with basketball, having reached the NBA Finals despite inherent disadvantages.
Durant reportedly tweeted after leaving for Golden State that he “didn’t like the organization or playing for Billy Donovan.” Fans responded by using the hashtag #KowarD.
Ex-Jazz player Trey Lyles spent last week getting taunted online after calling Utah one of the league’s five most undesirable destinations. Enes Kanter termed the Jazz unprofessional.
Other players such as ex-Jazz forward Richard Jefferson have praised Utah. Current OKC forward Carmelo Anthony said Thunder fans “appreciate” their team more than in other markets.
Love or hate the cities, this year’s first-round matchup will be missing some of the usual taunts. That’s not to say there won’t be back-and-forth, but small-on-small trash-talking doesn’t have the same bite.
How big can it be if it’s not playing on Broadway?