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Kragthorpe: Jordan hoax hurts Flash's reputation

Published December 7, 2009 10:34 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

If the trend continues, former Jazz forward Bryon Russell will have his next embarrassing moment involving Michael Jordan in 2020.

In the latest episode, Russell willingly played along with the fake.

Staging a thoroughly scripted hoax that had thousands of fans believing Russell was about to play one-on-one with Jordan during halftime of the Utah Flash's home opener Monday night in the NBA Development League, Russell and Flash owner Brandt Andersen went way too far.

Standing on the court in a darkened McKay Events Center, Russell told the franchise-record crowd of 7,542, "I'm ready to play. Where is MJ?"

And then, as the fans roared in anticipation, bodyguards surrounded a Jordan impersonator who walked onto the court. Russell held his ground -- unlike 11 years ago, when the genuine Jordan brushed past him and delivered the title-winning shot in the NBA Finals.

"This is embarrassing right now," Russell announced. "This is not good."

Well, he nailed it.

Andersen is clever and aggressive, but this stunt will cost him considerable credibility. It all stemmed from Jordan's taking shots at Russell during his Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech in September. Andersen capitalized by trying to arrange the competition, offering $100,000 to charity in the winner's name.

It was well intended, up until the moment when thousands of fans believed Jordan was in the building.

Andersen's defense? He never promised that Jordan was coming, and claims that until mid-afternoon Monday, "We did think there was a chance he might be here."

Russell was a co-conspirator to the end, saying he enjoyed the buildup and execution. As proof of Jordan's aura, fans overwhelmed the parking lots and ticket office and forced arena management to make closed seating areas available just before halftime.

By the game's end, though, roughly one-third of those fans remained. Andersen rationalized that many left only in the fourth quarter of the Flash's 102-92 win over Dakota, avoiding another traffic jam.

More likely, they felt betrayed.

"What I always said was, regardless of what happened, we would have fun with it," Andersen said. "That's what we tried to do."

Andersen blew this one, even if D-League commissioner Dan Reed provided a persuasive defense and the Flash offered everyone free admission to a future game.

"It's minor-league sports, right?" Reed said. "It's supposed to be fun."

There's a distinction between minor league and bush league, though, and Andersen crossed that line. Whether he recognized it or not, thousands of fans made a statement by leaving early, and I doubt they're coming back.

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