‘Mysterious’ Bojan Bogdanovic becomes the first of the traded ex-Jazz players to make his Utah return

The Croatian sharpshooter recalls both his highlights with and sudden break-up of the Jazz, while two former teammates praise him as a great player who was hard to get to know.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt (8) is pressured at the basket by Detroit Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) as the Utah Jazz take on the Detroit Pistons in NBA basketball at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.

The Utah Jazz’s first reunion this season with a departed player came all the way back in their second game, when they visited Rudy Gobert in Minneapolis.

On Wednesday night, though, Bojan Bogdanovic became the first of the four traded starters from last year’s team to come back and visit Vivint Arena.

And in the pre-holiday environs, both he and his ex-teammates were grateful for the temporary get-together — even if his 23-point night in the Detroit Pistons’ subsequent 125-116 victory put a bit of a damper on things.

In the lead-up to that, though, as Bogdanovic rounded a corner in the visitors’ locker room pregame and unexpectedly came face-to-face with a group of assembled local reporters waiting to speak to him, he stopped suddenly, a wide grin appearing.

“It’s kinda strange to be in this locker room, but it’s great to see all these [familiar] faces — my friends, you guys. Yeah, it’s nice,” he said. “… This is one of the best organizations in the league. … I was really happy and honored to be a part of this organization, and I still think that the Jazz have one of the best [fan bases] in the league.”

Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, the two primary holdovers from the group that was unceremoniously deconstructed this past offseason, said that they’ve remained in contact with Bogdanovic and others, but they were still looking forward to getting to see him in person.

The point guard laughed pregame Wednesday about how they bonded in spite of him accidentally making the sharpshooter a bit uncomfortable in their first official meeting as teammates.

“I was lucky enough to have a [pregame ritual] handshake with him — he said he doesn’t have handshakes with anybody,” Conley recalled. “When I got traded here and he first signed here and we had our press conference in Vegas, I got to know him a little bit and said, ‘Hey, since we’re the new guys, we’ve got to come up with a handshake or something.’ I didn’t know at the time that he doesn’t really get down like that! So he just complied, and we made up a quick one.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Jazz player Detroit Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) greets Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (11) following the Jazz loss 116 to 125 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.

Both guards also focused on how private and reserved Bogdanovic was (his favorite activity was apparently going to eat at restaurants alone), and how no one ever truly got to know him.

Conley, concluding his handshake story, joked, “I think I’m about as close as you can get [to him], and I still don’t know who he is.”

Clarkson, at the morning shootaround, was asked to describe Bogdanovic and settled on the word “mysterious.”

Asked why that one, he explained and expounded in hilarious fashion.

“I feel like none of you guys really know him either! Heh heh! He’s mysterious — you don’t know what he did after [he left the facility],” Clarkson said. “He might have run 40 [Fortune] 500 Wall Street companies. He was just in the back, posted up. Or he ran 80 food-chain companies that were big-time here. You never know! … He [came] in with the duffel bag sometimes — you don’t know what’s in it. Is it full of cash? You don’t know!”

There were, however, some things teammates were quite certain of about Bogey.

“I just know he’s a boss, and he can get it done, and that’s my guy, always,” Clarkson said. “… We always knew we could count on him to get a basket at any point in the game — if that was in the post, if that was making a timely 3 to win the game for us. We always knew with Bojan that we were going to be solid if he had a chance to get that play. He was a rock, he always had our backs.

“We always knew he was gonna give us 20-plus a night. He was never going to have an off-night, and [somehow] he did, it was 18. It was never like, ‘Man, Bogey just played terrible tonight!’” he continued. “He would always bring it to the table, we always knew we could count on him. It was just dope being able to play with him.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Detroit Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) gets helped up by former teammate Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) as the Utah Jazz take on the Detroit Pistons in NBA basketball at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.

Bogdanovic conceded it was a little weird not having a ton of familiar teammates around to greet upon his return visit. Still, there were plenty of Jazz coaches, staffers, and employees he knew, and wound up hanging out in Utah’s locker room for 20 or 30 minutes before the game.

He recounted some of his favorite moments during his tenure with the team — most notably the buzzer-beating game-winner against the Milwaukee Bucks back in November 2019.

And he revisited the sudden demolition of the team he was a part of, noting that after Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and Royce O’Neale were all dealt, he and the other few remaining players all figured they were next.

“You can’t do much about it. I saw a lot of rumors, I saw a lot of guys being traded. I was just waiting to see what was going to happen with me and where I was going to end up,” Bogdanovic said. “You know how it works — it’s not in the players’ power. … They traded all the team, so I was waiting. Probably we all were waiting together to get traded at some point, honestly.”

There was a bit of wistfulness about how things ended.

But mostly, on Wednesday night, there were laughs about the better times, even laughs about a potential interaction in the short-term future.

Conley, asked to provide his favorite Bogey moment, replied: “A lot of them. Most of them came on the plane rides. We played cards, and he speaks in Croatian when he gets upset, when I win or someone else wins. I’ll miss that the most.”

Meanwhile, Clarkson was asked what was at stake and what his reaction would be if he managed to hit three or more 3-pointers against the Pistons — thereby helping him supplant Bogdanovic for the fifth-most in franchise history.

“Definitely some bragging rights! And he’ll owe me some money, too!” Clarkson joked. “… Just make sure there’s something that comes on the [jumbotron] screen — my face and his face, and I slide over him!

Clarkson would go on to get his needed 3, but the only Bogey-related content to grace the big screen was a tribute video to him during a first-quarter timeout. It concluded with a simple phrase featuring one of his go-to words: “Welcome back, brother.”

It was a well-deserved moment for a player so big-time.