The relationship between forward Carlos Boozer and Jazz fans is as complicated as the fact that an expression of disgust and fondness sounds about the same.
Are those "boos" or "Booz-es"?
The response seemingly tilted far more toward admiration Sunday night at EnergySolutions Arena, where Boozer posted 31 points and 13 rebounds as the Jazz beat Denver to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series.
Boozer jerseys dotted the crowd, the volume of support was stirring and the built-up resentment toward Boozer was easily forgotten for one night.
Conditional love was flowing.
"If you perform well in the playoffs, all is forgiven," said Jazz fan Jon Aubrey of South Jordan.
As long Boozer is playing at that level, said Ashly Mae Moses of Salt Lake City, "I'll be cheering for him, regardless of how much I personally dislike the guy."
In the franchise's 36-year history, only five New Orleans/Utah Jazz players have earned multiple All-Star Game selections. Boozer is one of them. Yet he remains one of the team's most polarizing players, never being fully embraced for a variety of reasons. That list includes injuries that caused him to miss about one-third of the team's games in his first five seasons, his comments about his contract status and openness to trade possibilities and a perception of his placing self-interest above the team.
The general distrust of Boozer's motives was such that when he missed the last game of a regular season, a loss to Phoenix that was critical to playoff seeding, he was viewed as shirking with a strained muscle in his rib cage. "It was the worst thing in the world not to be able to play," he said Monday. "I wouldn't have been able to help my team."
The irony was that his coming back and playing well three nights later in the series opener at Denver raised more questions about why he did not try to play against Phoenix. Yet now that the Jazz have a 3-1 lead and the entire Western Conference playoff picture appears jumbled, their outlook is much more encouraging. Without two injured starters, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, the Jazz have thrived with Boozer, guard Deron Williams and others.
The surprising postseason performance is justifying the Jazz's decision not to trade Boozer, even knowing they could lose him to free agency in the summer, with his six-year, $68 million contract expiring.
Whether he wants to stay beyond this season and if the Jazz can afford to re-sign him are major issues for the summer. For now, it is clear that the theory of letting the Boozer era play out and seeing where the Jazz could go with him in the 2010 playoffs had merit.
"Everybody's happy," Boozer said. "You see how happy I am, how happy my teammates are, how happy the coaching staff is, management, ownership, fans. I think everybody's pleased with how things have been."
Grudgingly so, in some cases.
"He is a cancer of a human being, but maybe the best power forward in the league. ... So keep him, I guess," said Jazz fan Timothy Donaldson of Salt Lake City.
Chandler Fisher of Roosevelt and his three sons in their 20s "have had a low opinion of Mr. Boozer's work ethic and convenient injury history," he said. "But this season has done a lot to repair our estimation of his worth to the Jazz."
Boozer appreciates the way Jazz coach Jerry Sloan helped him through a rough start of the season, when he was feeling pressure. Sloan is not taking any credit for the counseling, saying, "To me, I was only interested in his play."
That makes him just like all those other Jazz fans, judging Boozer from game to game.
"There is no way a true fan of basketball could have continued to respect Boozer with the way he has acted the last few seasons," said Mick McGirr of Washington, D.C. "That being said, the way he has put it all on the line this season, Game 4 being a great example, I have no choice but to wipe the slate clean for him.
"As a true Jazz fan, I want to see the Jazzmen win, and am willing to take help in any form it comes."