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Walden: JimmerMania’s time has come and (should be) gone

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang (31) reaches down at the ball, held by Phoenix Suns guard Jimmer Fredette (32) as the Utah Jazz host the Phoenix Suns, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Monday March 25, 2019.

JimmerMania remains alive and well here in Utah.

Jimmer Fredette’s NBA career, meanwhile, appears to be on life support, and maybe should and probably will have the plug pulled once the Phoenix Suns wrap their season April 9.

His appearance here a few days ago against the Jazz proved both of those statements true. It also put yet another unwanted spotlight on the behavior of sports fans in Utah, albeit for a more benign reason this time.

When Fredette checked into the game at the beginning of the second quarter, he received a raucous ovation. No surprise, right? After all, he was a former BYU star, the national Player of the Year, and he was playing in just the second game of his latest comeback following a three-year hiatus from the NBA. Perfectly appropriate to acknowledge him.

The subsequent cheers, though, every time he touched the ball? The breathless anticipation and near-pleading for him to get on the scoreboard? Now, that was interesting.

Every time he got the ball, thousands of fans proceeded to go nuts, hoping to see him do something memorable. And every time he missed — which he did quite a bit, finishing 1 for 10 from the field — there was obvious audible disappointment.

You couldn’t help but notice. There was word that some of his own teammates were irate, as his shooting contributed to thwarting Devin Booker’s pursuit of 60 points. Many Jazz fans chimed in on social media that they were ticked off about the cheering of an opposing player blatantly gunning for baskets against the home team. As it turned out, there were some Jazz players, too, apparently less-than-pleased with the shift in affections.

My Tribune colleague, Andy Larsen joked on Twitter about the Jimmer hysteria, referencing owner Gail Miller’s recent pregame speech pleading for appropriate behavior in the wake of allegations of racist taunts directed at Thunder guard Russell Westbrook:

“Gail: please respect our opponents when they come to our arena. / *Jimmer comes to town* / Gail: okay not that much respect”

He wasn’t alone in such comments, leading to Jimmer supporters lashing out at the criticism online.

“Local media is a flat out joke.… heaven forbid we cheer for a local legend from college” one wrote.

Then, some of the Jazz players made remarks that insinuated the crowd cheering for Jimmer instead of them was perhaps over the top. Kyle Korver tried to take a nuanced view:

“Good for him. He’s got such a story. His basketball story is filled with ups and downs, some good and some tough,” Korver said. “I just really respect that he keeps battling. It’s good to have him back out there again.”

The pro-Jimmer faction, of course, latched onto this statement as support of their behavior.

“Nice to see some Jazz players not super jealous or butthurt. Love the Jazz, but a few of them reminded me of spoiled 4 year olds…” wrote one.

Maybe they didn’t watch the whole video. In a follow-up question, Korver was asked, “Have you ever seen a crowd show that much love to an opposing player?” And he responded, “No. Never. I have not.” Even the most diplomatic player on the team could not help but concede it was, at best, weird and unusual.

I understand why there is lingering sentimentality toward Fredette, but I can’t for the life of me comprehend the depth of it.

Yeah, he was a fantastic college player who elevated his program and accomplished tremendous things. Fredette is 30 years old now and far removed from those glory days. Also he was not making an appearance at a BYU game, he was here as an opposing player. Sorry folks, none of us fits into our college wardrobe anymore — it’s time to let it go. Cheer him when he checks in, maybe cheer him if he makes a basket, and let that be it.

The two teams will be playing again this week in Phoenix, and I feel confident in saying he could make five times as many baskets and won’t get one-fifth the cheers from his own “home” crowd.

Actually, there was a lie in there — the part about “he could five times as many baskets.” I don’t actually think he can or will.

Like Korver said, good on the man for sticking with it and getting another shot. I’m certainly not begrudging him going for it. I’m a guy whose dream job as a kid was to be an NBA team beat writer, and after a couple decades in the business and a few months shy of my 42nd birthday, I got it. So I can identify with the premise of chasing your dreams.

Jimmer got to play in the NBA. From what we’ve seen of this latest comeback, he probably doesn’t deserve to continue. He still gets torched on defense, and he still can’t hit shots consistently enough to make up for it. If you’re holding onto “look at how he dominated in China!” well, I hate to break it to you, but he was only the fourth-leading scorer this season in the Chinese Basketball Association, ranking behind Pierre Jackson, Darius Adams, and Joe Young — and none of those guys got to come back.

Recognize there’s a near-zero-percent chance Phoenix picks up his option for next year (he was a DNP-CD Wednesday vs. the Wizards), a near-zero-percent chance anyone else gives him a shot, come to terms with Jimmer being done with the NBA, and by all means, give him some respect for having made it.

And then move on — quickly — and resume your cheering for the Jazz. One can presume that some positive energy directed their way might actually have a tangible impact.

Three more thoughts

You can’t spell “laughable” without L.A. • ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin wrote a pretty damning piece called “How the Lakers wasted Year 1 of LeBron,” chronicling the team’s season-long series of missteps. One of the most glaring: Trading Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac (who was coming off a stretch of averaging 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds) for stretch-four Mike Muscala, and intending to use the open roster spot to sign a buyout player such as Wayne Ellington, DeAndre Jordan, Enes Kanter or Carmelo Anthony. For starters, the Lakers simply could have waived Beasley without trading Zubac to open the spot; secondly, they whiffed on signing any of those players; meanwhile, Muscala, who was supposed to be a prolific deep shooter, has made 20.8 percent of his 3s with the team. Twenty-point-eight. McMenamin wrote that after the deadline, Clippers consultant Jerry West took some friends out to dinner, recounted how the deal went down, and they all had a laugh at the Lakers’ front-office incompetence. Ouch.

O come, O come, Emmanuel … to San Antonio • The Spurs held a ceremony Thursday to retire the No. 20 jersey of longtime guard Manu Ginobili, one of the best sixth men in NBA history, and a candidate to one day be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, owing to his role as an international trailblazer. While there was no shortage of poignant moments, arguably the best came from longtime teammate Tim Duncan, who recalled watching the 1999 draft at home and lamenting the Spurs “pick[ing] people that I’d never heard of.” He followed with a bang-on impression of then-NBA deputy commissioner Rod Thorn, who got to announce the second-round picks, getting to selection No. 57 and over-pronouncing the name of the Argentine guard who’d been playing for an Italian club: “Eh-man-you-ell Gee-no-bee-lee.” It’s worth watching if only to see coach Gregg Popovich lose all self-control at the line.

Slovenia, represent! • While most of the attention on Thursday’s Heat-Mavericks matchup in Miami rightly revolved around the last-ever matchup between the retiring Dwyane Wade and the presumed-to-be-retiring Dirk Nowitzki, there was another fascinating subplot — the first-ever matchup between Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic drawing an estimated 2,000 Slovenian fans to the game to watch the only two Slovenian players in the NBA battle it out. “It felt like we were in Ljubljana,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told The Associated Press, referring to the Slovenian capital. Anyway, give Round 1 to the old guy. Dragic got his second career triple-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists, as Miami won. Doncic scored 19 for Dallas, but shot just 6 for 18.

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