Greetings from Sacramento! And welcome to the final HBTJ newsletter of 2022.
One of my favorite parts of this job is getting some small looks into team members’ personalities. The Jazz’s just-completed trip to San Francisco offered a few chances, with an off-day practice Tuesday and a morning shootaround on Wednesday showing off the team simply having fun.
The Tuesday practice in a fourth-floor gym at the William J. Rutter Center on the University of California San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus made for a strange juxtaposition — the booming, bass-filled tunes of Bay Area hip-hop luminaries E-40, Too $hort, and Mac Dre blasting from a room within a university building named after a biochemist, and featuring a banquet hall, an aquatics complex, a pilates studio, and, of course, the “Herbst Center for Graduate Students & Postdoctoral Scholars.”
Leandro Bolmaro ultimately got control of the music, interrupting the parade of rappers to start spinning some club music, much to his teammates’ chagrin. When he opted for a house remix of the Destiny’s Child hit “Survivor” done by Jack Back (the alias of French DJ David Guetta), he was met with faux glares and some light-hearted booing.
On Wednesday (hours before their eventual loss to the Warriors) at the Equinox Gym attached to the Four Seasons hotel where they were staying, shootaround wrapped with several players and assistant coaches goofing around by stringing together oddball sequences of Eurostep and stutter-step moves, including into 3-point attempts.
Lauri Markkanen appeared to be the ringleader, though Rudy Gay and several assistants got in on it, too.
Meanwhile, I got to just chat with coach Will Hardy for a bit. In addition to him mocking beat writer Tony Jones’ boast that his beloved Mets are going to win the World Series this coming season (Hardy grew up a fan of the Atlanta Braves, though he conceded he doesn’t really follow MLB much anymore), I got him to finally answer a question I’d had ever since I put together that profile of him after he got hired: Why did he play intramural softball barefoot?
“That’s the question you want to ask me?!” he replied, laughing.
Turns out, growing up in Virginia, he liked to play outside without his shoes on, simply enjoying the feel of bare feet on whatever. At Williams College in Northwest Massachusetts, it was cold for much of the year, so when it got warm enough, he took his shoes off at every opportunity, usually during those softball games.
Jordan Clarkson’s challenging matchups
Many times, the interviews we do with players are geared toward a specific game or outcome or incident. Sometimes, though, it’s fun to toss in a question that’s apropos of nothing, just to get them engaged in a conversation.
So it was when I asked Jordan Clarkson after Wednesday’s shootaround which defender around the league he found most challenging to try and score on. He gave the query a few moments’ consideration before laughing and exclaiming: “Nobody!”
Clarkson, however, flipped it around and named a scorer who he finds it difficult to defend.
“But [someone for] me to watch and be like, ‘Man, I really think he’s challenging and tough to guard and fun to watch,’ I would say Jordan Poole,” said Clarkson. “He’s really grown as a player and became one of my favorite players to watch, especially [given] how they play, the style in the open floor — it’s just crazy to see.”
Asked if he saw some similarities in their respective styles of play, JC grinned.
“Little bit, little bit. That’s probably why I said that!” he replied with an animated chuckle.
A very serious discussion of PBJs
This isn’t about the Jazz, per se, though it happened in the aftermath of the game vs. the Warriors.
Another fun component of this job is getting to know beat writers who cover other teams, and hearing their various stories about their jobs. And on Wednesday night, all of the Warriors beat writers in the Chase Center media workroom had just one topic of discussion: 20-year-old rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. admitting in his postgame interview that he’d never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before last week.
He’s been playing with the team’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz, went through a late-afternoon practice, got told to book it to San Francisco because Golden State was short-handed, arrived an hour before tipoff, then scored 11 points in 13 minutes. Janie McCauley, the high-spirited and kind-hearted Associated Press writer, had her mom mode kick in and ask if he’d at least had a road-trip snack on account of not having a chance to get “a proper dinner.”
Then came the bombshell revelation that the player nicknamed PBJ (his initials) had never had a PBJ until a week or so ago, making everyone facetiously wonder what was wrong with his parents. He apparently is now enamored enough that he had two of them on the ride to the arena.
And I thought I had it bad ’cause my mom insisted my PBJs be on wheat bread.