Kragthorpe: Green means Jazz finally succeeded

Published December 3, 2009 6:52 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The best part about the Jazz's dressing in their old road uniforms is that sometimes it is worthwhile to remind everyone how bad they used to be.

And how good they became.

In green, they went from horrible to acceptable, from a joke of a franchise to a model organization.

So when the Jazz celebrate their past today by playing Indiana at EnergySolutions Arena in the first of 10 games this season in the throwback unis, there should be considerable appreciation of how far they had to come, and how consistent they became.

It is fitting that the Los Angeles Lakers' visit next week is also part of the NBA's "Hardwood Classics" series. Opposing teams such as the Lakers and Celtics often were the bigger attractions in the Salt Palace, a sign of the Jazz's struggles to become relevant and respectable.

That's what the Jazz's green era represents. Just becoming decent seemed like an achievement at the time, and it truly was. The Jazz went through 20 players during that first season of 1979-80 in Utah -- in the days of a 12-man roster -- with the unhealthy combination of a veteran coach (Tom Nissalke) who wanted to win right away, a rookie general manager (Frank Layden) who was struggling to establish some kind of organizational philosophy and an ownership group that was interested mostly in saving money.

Looking back, the key figures have cited "too much impatience" (Layden), called the organization "disorganized" (Nissalke) and described the player personnel as "a lot of misfits" (former executive Dave Checketts).

In place of all that came consistency, with two coaches in 28 years and a roster characterized by stability.

That's why green is good, in the context of Jazz history.

The green look originally was an alternative to the traditional purple in 1979-80, the Jazz's first season in Utah after they moved from New Orleans and kept the Mardi Gras colors.

It was used more in the early '80s, including the 1981-82 season, when Layden took over the coaching duties and presided over an 18-game losing streak -- even with Adrian Dantley, Darrell Griffith and Rickey Green healthy.

Two years later, the Jazz won the Midwest Division title and reached the second round of the playoffs.

The team subsequently reverted to purple on the road, and recently have switched to two shades of blue.

While there's an obvious merchandising angle behind the nostalgia, bringing out the green is meaningful for the Jazz. That era is a classic snapshot of this franchise's makeover, from being stocked with bad players and questionable characters and barely surviving in this market to thriving with genuine talent and good people.

This franchise may never win an NBA championship, but it has come an awfully long way since those first seasons in green. The Jazz figured it out somehow.

I'm not saying the Jazz's wearing uniforms from an era when just making the playoffs was a big deal should represent a need to lower everybody's performance demands for the current team. Rather, green should serve as a symbol of happily increased expectations for the Jazz, the kind of standards that nobody could have imagined holding them to in those days.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

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