Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Newly hired BYU basketball assistant coach Chris Burgess speaks at a press conference at the Marriott Center Annex in Provo on Thursday, April 25, 2019.

PROVO — Chris Burgess finally arrived on campus and is wearing BYU gear.

Yes, that’s news.

Back in 1996, as the tale goes, Burgess was one of the nation’s top basketball players, certainly one of the most coveted with ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was chased hard and long by BYU coaches Roger Reid and his assistant, the late Lynn Archibald, and no doubt heard the wit and one-liners of Tony Ingle.

But he decided to sign with Duke. Not a bad choice and it hatched a quote he shared with a local newspaper reporter. Burgess said Reid told him such a decision would be letting down "some 9 million Mormons." Later, he transferred from Duke to Utah in a second decision to skip the Provo campus.

Then last week, the news came. Burgess would join his former boss Mark Pope with whom he coached at Utah Valley University and become a member of BYU’s athletic department. He became a celebrity all over again with newspaper, TV and radio interviews, photos with his family and a huge boost in salary.

My how times change. Good for Burgess. And just for the sake of having fun over the moment, welcome to this Nike school.

It took a Pope to get Burgess to BYU.

It also took 23 years.

That’s longer than it took an army of slaves to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.

It’s about the same amount of time it took Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor, to build the Taj Mahal for his wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1673 and nine years longer than it took to carve Mount Rushmore.

I first began reporting on Burgess back when gas cost $1.22 a gallon, the summer Nintendo announced the Nintendo 64, called at the time the most ingenious gaming system ever created. It was a time the internet jumped from 1 to 10 million, Internet Explorer 3.0 came online and “Independence Day” and “Jerry McGuire” were top movies.

If you can build a pyramid with stone blocks, rope and sleds in 20 years with no diesel cranes, it’s nice to know you can get a guy tied up on campus in that time too. It only took Pope, not tens of thousands of slaves working 24/7.

And that’s good to know.

What he’ll find at BYU is a fan base that is devoted and plugged in. He’ll find out quickly they can corner cyberspace as fast and deep as any professional or collegiate fan base. As a group, they can get rough and sometimes kind of haughty, as he found when he played at Utah, but they mean well when you wear their colors. They are, by the numbers, the most of anybody in this market.

They are global and so is the exposure. In time, they will know if he likes Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper or just plain water.

He’ll find trainers, equipment managers and secretaries as devoted allies waiting to pay him respect and wish for his success. Winning helps, of course, but the honeymoon will be long.

Yes, his former Ute teammates will have some fun with him, and that’s expected. But he’ll also find when it comes to making coin, these rivalry lines get kind of blurry. Ask Kyle Whittingham, Norm Chow and Jeff Judkins. It’s OK. Nobody catches leprosy because they switched to red or blue.

20 comments on this story

Thing is, it’s a different world today than back in 1996 when there was no Twitter, no credit card size cell phones, iPads, iPods or Uber.

And instead of 9 million Latter-day Saints to disappoint, there are 16 million to please.

Good luck, Brother Burgess. Treat your kids to the Creamery and a Cougar Tail. They say it’s like being on another planet, that it’s BY-Zoo and like living in a bubble. Maybe they’re right, but many of the folks you see in the course of a campus stroll wouldn’t have it any other way.

Just avoid the parking attendants and their steel tire boots. You’ll be fine.