Three Utah Jazz alums and ex-All-Stars participants show up to promote the big weekend

Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, and Truck Robinson discuss their time with the franchise, their experiences in the showcase game, and their thoughts on the modern league.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Jazz players from left, Mehmt Okur, Deron Williams and Truck Robinson are recognized as the Utah Jazz host the Philadephia 76ers at Vivint Arena, Jan. 13, 2023.

Saturday night was one of nostalgia at the Delta Ce— … um, at Vivint Arena.

First off, there was that arena news, which was greeted with near-universal adoration. Then, during the midst of the Utah Jazz’s eventual 118-117 loss to the Sixers, came a bit of promotion for the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend, in the form of visits from three former franchise fixtures: Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, and former New Orleans Jazz big man Truck Robinson.

Each played in an All-Star Game at least once — Williams in 2010, ’11, and ’12; Okur in 2007 as an injury replacement; and Robinson in 1978 (with the Jazz) and ’81 (with the Suns).

During halftime of Saturday’s game, the trio of former All-Stars addressed the media to discuss the Feb. 19 All-Star Game to relive some highlights from their own, and to wax philosophical on the modern NBA game.

Counter to the usual narrative of ex-players ripping on the current league, both Williams and Okur actually expressed regret that their respective careers didn’t come a bit later, feeling as though their skills would be tailor-made for this fast-paced, volume-shooting time.

“This era, what they’re doing, the basketball they’re playing nowadays, it fits my game perfectly and it fits his game perfectly,” Okur said, indicating his former point guard. “We were just talking about it other day — we could have been deadly if we were playing together [now]. But, you know, we still did good.”

Williams, meanwhile, was openly envious of the prolific shooting going on beyond the arc now.

“We had the green light back then, but this is different. It’s a different type of green — it’s neon green now,” he said. “… Coach Sloan didn’t like early 3s, and now that’s all guys are taking; they’re encouraged to take them, so it’s a different level of confidence coming down knowing you can shoot anytime pretty much you want to and it’s not really a bad shot.”

Robinson appeared slightly less enthused, though his only real criticism was a bit of dismay at seeing so many 7-footers opt to shoot 3s instead of trying to capitalize against smaller defenders in the post.

As for All-Star Weekend specifically, Robinson also lamented — albeit in a humorous, good-natured way — that the games had perhaps veered too far into the direction of showboating exhibitions.

Asked what the ASG was like in 1978, he opted for a relatively diplomatic comparison.

“It was … a lot more competitive,” he began slowly, eliciting laughter. “Guys in the East wouldn’t [just] let you score — they were playing against you, trying to win. It was a big thing trying to win. We talked about it in the locker room [with] Dave Cowens — he was like, ‘Stretch out, stretch out, get ready!’ Everybody was real serious. Now, of course … last year, the kid, Giannis, what was he, 18 for 18? All dunks? Big difference. That was probably the biggest difference, [it was] a lot more competitive.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Jazz players from left, Mehmet Okur, Deron Williams and Truck Robinson are recognized as the Utah Jazz host the Philadephia 76ers at Vivint Arena, Jan. 13, 2023.

The more recent Jazz players had happy memories of their own All-Star Game participation.

Williams recalled feeling some mixture of relief and validation — convinced he had been deserving of a spot for at least a couple of years before he finally got in. That his first appearance came in his hometown of Dallas, though, wound up making it special.

Okur, meanwhile, said he found it surreal that he was suddenly sharing a locker room with the league’s biggest superstars, and that he was told he belonged: “Just being there [was] my favorite part!” He noted that though he only scored four points, he was actually good with that … considering he could one day just tell his grandkids that he scored 40, and they wouldn’t know the difference.

And while his one All-Star Game was one more than he ever thought he’d get, he did express some surprise that he wasn’t invited to more All-Star weekends — as a participant in the 3-Point Shootout.

“I cannot believe I never made it!” he exclaimed, legitimately dumbfounded. “They never called and said ‘You should be there.’ My [career 3-point] average was 40% or something like that.”

Well, technically, 37.5% for his career, and 38.1% in his 404 games with the Jazz, but that’s just semantics.

“I thought you should have been there!” Williams quickly interjected in support.

The point guard, meanwhile, said he’s expecting big things from this year’s game in Salt Lake City.

He knows that Utah still has a certain kind of reputation nationally, but he’s convinced that people who come this time will be pleasantly surprised.

“I think it’ll be a lot different. I feel like Salt Lake has changed a lot in the last 25 years — the the cityscape, the landscape, the liquor laws, things that are gonna make for a more enjoyable experience,” Williams said. “The arena, they’ve done a great job of upgrading things. … I think it’s gonna be a great atmosphere.”