It’s tricky business, trying to tell others — namely, young and rich and talented and in-demand NBA free agents — how they should feel about choosing to come to and live in Salt Lake City, and to play for the Utah Jazz.
But not tricky enough to stop some of us from doing it, again and again.
Brigham Young said, “This is the right place.”
Derek Harper said, “You go live in Utah.”
Both quotes have resonated in fame and infamy.
Dwight Howard once made his mom cry by telling her in a prank that he had signed with the Jazz. That response likely had more to do with the idea of sending her son, again, so far from home, more than her holding anything against the team, city and state.
Other players, quite a few, have stood up for Utah and the Jazz, the most recent being Carlos Boozer, who spoke glowingly, hamstring and all, of his time here.
The Jazz are entering one of the more important periods of their existence, a condition that has previously been pronounced at numerous junctures. But this time, we mean it. This time, the Jazz have a few aces in the hole, guys in place who need, warrant and deserve help from at least one more established player.
I’m not talking about some midlevel dude or two who might be able to nudge the needle forward. No, this offseason and circumstance calls for an authentic difference-maker, a real star, a proven presence in the league who requires little or no additional development, a player who already has put in that work, a player who, sure, wants to get better, who can get better, but who doesn’t need to.
Everybody knows the Jazz have two stars, one who is the best defensive player on God’s green earth, who also can contribute at the offensive end. But here’s the thing — he doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands. He’s happy to take it and dunk it when he gets it. He doesn’t demand it. He doesn’t use up large portions of the shot clock, causing others to squat in place and find some bit of happiness being a third wheel.
Rudy Gobert is an exquisite teammate, a force that takes nothing away from a new star scorer, and that will cover for him at the other end when said scorer is already working out in his mind’s eye what spectacular move he’s got for the subsequent possession.
The other star, Donovan Mitchell, has to get his touches and his shots. But he is humble and selfless in nature. He doesn’t have to pretend to be that way. It comes easy for him. He can be those good things, can fill the gym and the locker room with enthusiasm, and he can flat ball. That combo-pack is rare, and it comes in truly handy for any additional star who might consider joining up with the Jazz.
The table is set, then, not just with those two, but with the rest of a roster filled with guys who are fine supporting players, pro athletes who actually cheer for one another, who aren’t secretly hoping something awful happens to a newcomer so they can take advantage of self-benefiting opportunity. The deal is genuine here.
Then, there’s a coach who knows what he’s doing. Not just a hoops academic who has studied up on his Xs and Os, and has all the fundamentals and advanced bits slammed into his brain in some sort of traffic jam of ingenuity. No, Quin Snyder also knows about the human condition, about how to handle and lead and inspire hugely competitive, skilled individuals who want to win in the worst way.
And finally, there’s the franchise and the city.
The Jazz have an owner who is willing to spend stacks of cash on players who can help her team win a championship. She wants to win a title, not just act as though she does. She’s essentially handed the team over to the community, putting it in a trust so it remains, no matter how valuable it becomes, exactly where it is.
The Jazz have poured millions of dollars into a top-drawer practice facility that has everything the modern NBA player could ask for. They have a renovated arena, one that has won awards for its upgrades and design. They have pros’ pros running the thing.
And they have a town and a fanbase worth winning for.
On that subject, can we put the ultimate kibosh on the idea that Utah is some kind of dusty outpost filled with monolithic, backward-thinking weirdos who roll around in horse-drawn buggies, delivering fresh milk to their neighbors, at least to the compliant ones? I mean, some of us are like that and do that, but not all. We’re not out on the front porch shucking corn and filing down pendants out of peach pits, wearing boots and overalls and saying oh my heck. Not everyone disapprovingly shakes their heads at newcomers with varying philosophies and lifestyles and backgrounds … well, other than a few folks in the state legislature.
We’re not all that way.
Somebody please kill the stereotype that Salt Lake has no nightlife, has no entertainment, has no bars, no restaurants, has no attractive and progressive young people to befriend or have a party with or to enjoy their company. Hell, you can even drink a beer here.
The place is growing about as fast in population as anywhere in the country. A lot of Americans really do want to live here. The economy is growing, technology is booming, opportunity is expanding.
Utah is not a bunch of fetchers named LaVerl and LaVerne, Bernard and Bernice, although we hold no ill-will against fetchers because we happily accept all kinds around these parts … white, black, brown, liberal, conservative, straight, gay, you name it … and cheer for them on the court. We’re not perfect, and there remain some idiots among us. But no more than any other place.
People and players can even make a buck here. Cameras and coverage and endorsement opportunities are everywhere. In the modern NBA, to thrive, nobody has to live in New York or L.A., and based on the recent competitive disappointment of franchises in those two metro areas, it’s just as easy to fail there as it is here. Maybe easier.
The narrative that Salt Lake City is not and never will be a destination for NBA players, a place to which free agents will never come, is trite and tired and stupid, even if it’s been true in the past. But the past is exactly that. It’s not the present and it’s certainly not the future. It’s not now.
This is a community worthy of being an NBA destination, a place where the fans care deeply about their team, where the team is well run, where the team is well coached and well cared for, where the mountains surround the players just like the people embrace them.
It’s a place where players and people alike can be in the world, and of it, too.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.