The NBA Finals have returned to Utah, bringing joy to Utah residents everywhere.
People fly flags from their car windows. Buildings put up huge Jazz banners. Radio shows give out tickets to games. More than 15,000 fans show up at the Delta Center to watch the game on television. Is this normal?
Like the NBA commercials, it’s fan-tastic.
Since their addition to the league, the Utah Jazz have been an anomaly of sorts simply because of their fan base. Where most teams have only a city rooting for it, the Jazz have an entire state. From St. George to Logan, the Jazz are the home team, the pride and joy of the state.
They are not the Salt Lake City Jazz. They are the Utah Jazz and Utah loves them like a son.
Karl Malone is beloved because not only can he dominate a basketball game, but his values include hard work and family first — right in line with the beliefs of the majority of Utah residents.
John Stockton is the everyman. At first glance, he looks like some guy you would see hanging out at the local YMCA begging for a pickup game. But once on the court, he proves he is above the rest.
Where else but Utah could Opie look-alike Adam Keefe get quality minutes and even start for a while. What other team would inspire Howard Eisley, who could be starting for any number of teams, to sign a contract to be a backup. The Jazz are a peculiar team.
And as a peculiar people, we love that. We thrive on being different and we are fiercely loyal to our team because we can relate to the players.
The players are not media icons like Shaq or Kobe Bryant. You don’t see Malone in sneaker adds, or Jeff Hornacek doing American Express commercials. In fact, Malone is one of a few NBA players who doesn’t have an agent, a job that has become a mainstay in professional sports.
Hornacek has an NBA commercial where he is in bed reading a story to his kids. That sums up the Jazz — off the court they are normal people, preferring to not act like most famous athletes but more like men with any other job. To see Malone away from basketball, he could be an ordinary steelworker or truck driver.
But when the players step onto the court, it’s immediately obvious why the fans support this team. All it takes is one trip to the Delta Center to realize the passion involved in being a Jazz fan.
Even those fans sitting in the upper bowl — where the distance from the court is so great it’s sometimes difficult to tell Malone and Stockton apart — cheer wildly throughout the game. During a Jazz run, it gets so loud it is virtually impossible to carry on a conversation.
When a call goes against the Jazz, the resulting cascade of boos is deafening.
Jazz fans have been patient and are now being rewarded. The Jazz are in the NBA Finals for the second straight year, and with no big name players leaving after this season, Utah is the early favorite to return next year.
The community has rallied around Malone, Stockton and the boys. Many feel this is their year to take the title from the aging Bulls.
But even if they lose, the Jazz have taught us all a lesson about teamwork and togetherness. It’s the one time of year University of Utah fans and BYU fans agree on something, and that is a miracle in itself.
Political rivals unite to cheer on the Jazz, and even long-time enemies can bury the hatchet for two weeks to root for the home team.
We need to have sports for this reason. It gives us a sense of who we are, of what we stand for. All over the world, the media is talking about Utah, showing pictures of the mountains and temple square. It’s free publicity for our state.
Yes, Virginia, the Jazz are in the Finals. And even if they lose, we all come out winners.