Kragthorpe: Boozer gets a chilly reception at ESA
They had all summer to script how they would act out their feelings toward Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, which explains why Landon Hallman and Jason Bond fell back on a months-old trade rumor as the theme of their protest during Thursday's preseason opener at EnergySolutions Arena.
Credit them with the only creative, organized demonstration of Jazz fans' stances about Boozer, among the varying expressions during their 103-87 win over Denver.
The two buddies from Pleasant Grove designed special uniforms - one with homemade "Bulls" writing on the front and "Boozer" on the back; the other a retro Jazz jersey with (Tyrus) "Thomas" on the back. During timeouts, they stood in Row 5 and held a "Trade Us" sign that drew apparent laughs from some Jazz players, who claimed afterward not to have noticed.
"We were a little upset with Boozer over the summer," Hallman said. "No hard feelings; just having a good time."
Boozer finished with seven points and seven rebounds and the Jazz outscored the Nuggets 56-39 during his 20-plus minutes on the floor.
Generally, Boozer's reception would be best described as chilly, although not openly hostile. There were muted cheers during pregame introductions, grumblings after each of his three missed shots in the first half and some sustained boos when he stood at the free-throw line in the third quarter. The response was much more positive when he twice poked the ball away from Denver's Nene for steals.
So it is apparent that Jazz fans' love of Boozer will be conditional. That's still better than the outright anger directed at him in March 2007, the first time he returned to Cleveland in a Jazz uniform, or the way Derek Fisher was treated here in November 2008 after coming back with the Lakers. In each of those cases, the visitors were being punished for perceived betrayal of the franchises.
Some of that sentiment exists here about Boozer, certainly. Bond undoubtedly spoke for many fans when he decried the way Boozer "nonchalantly" talked about being eager to play for other teams.
Whatever method of measurement he was using, Boozer believed he was received well Thursday. "I was happy about that," he said. "I'm going to continue to earn their respect and earn their trust again, and go from there."
Jazz fans do have a long history of forgiving their own players. In the 1980s, they welcomed John Drew back from drug rehabilitation and they treated Adrian Dantley well after his contract holdout at the start of a season and his episode of being sent home from a road trip for supposedly disrespecting coach Frank Layden. They also dealt with Karl Malone's periodic contract complaints.
"Even when I held out one year, there were a few boos, and then after that it was normal," said Dantley, now a Denver assistant coach. "Fans always treated me great here. ... I told someone today, I wish I could have ended my career here. Among all the fans in the league, Utah fans were my favorite."
Asked if he ever remembered any lingering resentment, Dantley said, "I didn't experience that. I never went home and told my wife that fans were getting on me. Frank might get on me, but never the fans."
Dantley could smile when he said that, now that his relationships with Layden and the organization have improved and his No. 4 hangs in the arena rafters.
That's not likely to happen with Boozer's No. 5. Next year, he's likely to be targeting a return to Salt Lake City with another team, and more fans than just Hallman and Bond surely would be mobilized in an effort to properly welcome him back. But who knows? By then, he may have done enough to make them actually miss him.