The Utah Jazz is a professional basketball team based in Salt Lake City, Utah. They are currently members of the Northwest Division of the Western Conference in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The team was originally the New Orleans Jazz, but due to owner Sam Battistone's unhappiness in New Orleans (and perhaps his wife's Utah roots), defected to Utah in 1979. Under current coach Jerry Sloan, the Jazz were one of the most successful teams throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, winning two Western Conference Titles in 1997 and 1998. The Finalist teams were anchored by the combination of point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone and made the playoffs 20 consecutive seasons (behind only the record Portland Trail Blazers' 21-year playoff streak). Malone and Stockton are generally seen as two of the best players in history at their positions and among the best two-player combinations of all time.
After five winning seasons in New Orleans, they moved to Utah in 1979. The Jazz's attendance actually declined slightly after the team's move from New Orleans to Utah, due to a late approval for the move (June 1978) and poor marketing in the Salt Lake City area. The reasons for the move were more financial, with a horrible arena lease and losses totaling $5 million in 5 seasons in New Orleans.
Although the team nickname was not fitting for Salt Lake City at the time, with Utah not being known for its jazz culture like New Orleans was, the franchise decided to keep it. One fan quipped that "This is interesting, Utah has the Jazz and New Orleans has the Saints," referring to the facts that New Orleans' NFL team was named the Saints, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was headquartered in Utah.
In 1984, the Jazz drafted point guard John Stockton from Gonzaga University and the next year added the second half of one of the NBA's greatest pairings in power forward Karl Malone from Louisiana Tech. In both the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons, the Jazz barely scraped into the playoffs. In 1986, the Jazz traded Adrian Dantley to Detroit. During the next few seasons, the Jazz began to establish themselves as a respectable team in their own right. Mark Eaton was, perhaps, one of the more notable defensive players of the era. And for their part, Stockton and Malone soon became superstars. Stockton and Malone developed into a very effective combo, running pick-and-roll plays with great success. "Stockton to Malone" became a common phrase, as Stockton regularly found ways to pass the ball to Malone in good scoring position. Despite the regular season successes, however, the Jazz were never able to advance past the second round of the NBA Playoffs during the 1980s. During the 1988-89 season, Frank Layden stepped down as head coach to become president of the Utah Jazz. Assistant coach Jerry Sloan took over head coaching duties. Sloan guided the Jazz to their first 50-win season ever with a 51–31 record, also winning the Midwest Division. Once again, however, the Jazz flopped in the postseason, losing to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
In the 1994-95 season, the Jazz had significant depth and talent at their disposal and were expected to make a serious run for the championship. The Jazz finished with a 60–22 record during the regular season. Despite this, however, the Jazz lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs in five games. Big man Greg Ostertag was added to the team for the 1995-96 season, and the Jazz reached the conference finals for the third time in history, almost overcoming a 3–1 deficit and narrowly losing to the Seattle SuperSonics 4–3.
In the next two seasons, the Jazz were finally able to capitalize on their regular season success. In 1996-97, The Jazz had their best record in franchise history at 64–18, with such players as Stockton, Malone, Hornacek, Russell, Ostertag, Antoine Carr, Howard Eisley, and Shandon Anderson. They finally reached the NBA Finals for the first time ever after beating the Los Angeles Clippers 3–0, Los Angeles Lakers 4–1, and Houston Rockets 4-2 to meet Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. A three-pointer at the buzzer by John Stockton in Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Championship sent the Jazz to the finals. This shot remains one of the highlight shots of the Jazz franchise. In the 1997 NBA Finals, the Jazz lost to the Bulls 4–2, after losing the last two in the final seconds of the games (90–88 and 90–86). Malone won the MVP for the regular season for the first time ever.
During the offseason, the Jazz made no significant changes to their roster. During the 1997-98 season, expectations were high for another championship run. However, Stockton suffered a serious knee injury before the season began and missed the first 18 games. Despite the setback, the Jazz were still able to finish at 62–20. In the playoffs they beat the Rockets 3–2, the Spurs 4–1, and the Los Angeles Lakers 4–0 to advance to their second NBA Finals appearance in a row. Utah, an aged core made up of veterans Stockton, Malone and Hornacek, were facing a Lakers squad comprised of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, two young superstars of the NBA at the time. Though the Jazz were favored to beat the Lakers, since they owned home court advantage, there were doubters. Many felt the Lakers were far too talented and athletic and that the Jazz's age would show. Yet all thoughts of this were dispelled in game one, where the Jazz dominated the Lakers to a 112–77 victory. It was the worst playoff loss in franchise history for the Lakers and set the tone for the series. Though games were far closer than what occurred in game one, Utah would go on to sweep the Lakers and return to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. In the 1998 NBA Championship, the Jazz took Game 1 at home 88–85. However, the Bulls overcame a slow start to win Game 2 93–88, easily took Game 3 96–54 and won a closer Game 4 86–82 to lead 3–1 in the series. The Jazz fought back to win Game 5 83–81 at the United Center and the series returned to Salt Lake City, where the Jazz had always been dominant. The Jazz held a lead in most of Game 6, but the Bulls rallied, and in the last seconds of the game, Michael Jordan made a jump shot to win the game, 87–86. This loss highlights the Jazz's struggles in the postseason, despite their overall, consistent success. Former referee Mike Mathis, an adament critic of current NBA officiating, did not cite the supposed offensive foul on Jordan and stated it was the correct no call in an article denouncing NBA officials following the Tim Donaghy incident. The game was also controversial because of two incidents early in the game. In the second quarter Howard Eisley made a three pointer, but the officials incorrectly ruled that the shot was taken after the shot clock expired. Later in the game, Ron Harper made a two-pointer after the shot clock expired, but this time the officials allowed it. Many Jazz fans also feel that these "phantom five" points also cost them the game, since the final margin was only one point.
In the 1999 season, shortened to 50 games due to a lockout, the Jazz finished the season 37–13, tied with the Spurs for the best record in the league. They defeated the Sacramento Kings in five games in the first round of the playoffs. However, they lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Portland Trail Blazers. Despite yet another disappointment, Malone was awarded his second MVP. During the 1999-00 season, the Jazz finished 55-27 and won the Midwest Division but once again struggled in the postseason, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers, again during the second round. During the offseason, Hornacek retired and Howard Eisley was traded in a four-team deal that brought in Donyell Marshall. They selected promising high school basketball star DeShawn Stevenson in the first round of the NBA Draft. In the 2000-01 season, they went 53–29, but their playoff woes once again struck when they blew a 2–0 series lead in the first round of the playoffs to the Dallas Mavericks, a team that had not made the playoffs since 1990.
In the 2001-02 season, Andrei Kirilenko made his rookie debut, but overall the Jazz began to show their age and dwindling talent. The Jazz finished just 44–38 and lost to the Sacramento Kings 3–1 in the first round of the playoffs. In 2002-03, Marshall and Russell moved on to other teams. Matt Harpring, however, was brought over from the Philadelphia 76ers, contributing to the offense and experiencing his best season. The Jazz approached 50 wins going into the playoffs, ultimately going 47–35 and again losing to the Kings 4–1. After the season, the end of an era came when Stockton retired and Malone moved to the Lakers in the hunt for a championship ring with several other future Hall-of-Famers (The Lakers fell to Detroit in the Finals the following season, after which Malone retired).
In the 2004 offseason, the Jazz obtained free agents Carlos Boozer (from the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Mehmet Okur (from the Detroit Pistons) and Greg Ostertag left as a free agent to the Sacramento Kings. The franchise was again expected to contend in the West. The season began well for the Jazz, but a series of injuries, first to Arroyo and Raul Lopez, and later to Boozer and Kirilenko, caused the team to fall to the bottom of the division. There were rumors of internal discontent between the younger players and Sloan, leading to the trading away of Arroyo mid-season to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Elden Campbell (who was immediately waived). They ended the 2004-05 season with a record of 26–56, their worst since the 1981–1982 season.
In the summer of 2005, the Jazz continued to shape their roster by dispatching some of their underperforming young players and trading three draft picks in order to acquire the #3 pick overall, with which they selected point guard Deron Williams of the University of Illinois. Raja Bell left the team for the Phoenix Suns, the Jazz re-obtained Greg Ostertag from the Kings, and oft-injured point guard Raul Lopez was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The 2005-06 season was injury-plagued before it even started; Boozer missed the first 49 games and Gordan Giricek and Kirilenko both missed significant time due to injuries. Okur and Kirilenko, however, showed consistently good play, while Williams, despite a midseason slump, did not disappoint. However, rumors of discontent between Jerry Sloan and the young players persisted, while team owner Larry Miller continually expressed his displeasure with the team's effort. They stayed in the playoff race until the third-to-last game, when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks. The Jazz ended the season 41–41 and just 3 games out of the playoffs. Ostertag retired at the end of the season, having spent 10 of his 11 seasons with the team.
In the 2006 NBA Draft, the Jazz selected promising University of Arkansas shooting guard Ronnie Brewer in the first round and in the second round selected point guard Dee Brown and power forward Paul Millsap. Several young players were traded away for Golden State Warriors guard Derek Fisher, giving them a veteran point guard. The Jazz were heralded by several major sports websites for drafting well and making good offseason moves.
The Jazz went on to face the Houston Rockets in the first round. The series was a physical, close-fought one, with each of the first 6 games being won by the home team. The Jazz were able to break this trend in the 7th game, beating the Rockets 103-99 in Houston. The Jazz then went on to face the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors, who were coming off a historic upset of the #1-seeded Dallas Mavericks (who had gone 67-15 in the regular season, one of the best in NBA history). However, the Jazz easily handled the Warriors, winning the series 4-1. The Jazz went on to face the San Antonio Spurs, fresh off a controversial victory over the Phoenix Suns, in the Western Conference Finals, but were eliminated from the playoffs 4-1.
During the offseason, the Jazz gained a hometown D-League affiliate in the Utah Flash (based in Orem), that they share with the Boston Celtics. During the offseason, the Jazz selected shooting guard Morris Almond in the first round, although ultimately they made few lineup changes. The most significant move was in letting Derek Fisher go. Fisher had also become a fan favorite due to his daughter's well-publicized battle with a rare form of eye cancer; he moved to Los Angeles during the offseason to be closer to better care for his daughter, and later signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he won 3 championships from 2000-2002. Offseason controversy arose after Kirilenko led his Russian national team to a European championship and won European League MVP honors. After this, Kirilenko posted on a blog that he wished to be traded from the Jazz and would be willing to walk away from his contract. He later reaffirmed this in interviews. However, no trade was made and Kirilenko has since backed off these requests (although he has also not said that he has changed his mind).
During the 2007-08 season, after a trade that sent disgruntled shooting guard Gordan Giricek to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Kyle Korver, the Jazz ran off a record-tying 19 game home winning streak and improved on the road after a rough December. Despite the offseason controversy and trade talk, Kirilenko elevated his play, improving all stats from the previous season and seeming content with his new role more as a defender and a facilitator as opposed to a scorer. Carlos Boozer again won an All-Star selection, while Deron Williams continued to elevate his play, averaging 13.3 assists per game in March (as opposed to 10.5 for the season as a whole). The Jazz finished the regular season 5th best in the west with a 54-28 record. That included a 37-4 home record, but they did not have a good year on the road going 17-24, which included two defeats against the Minnesota Timberwolves (22-60) and a loss against the league worst Miami Heat (15-67). They also sold out all 41 home games for the first time since the 1997-98 season. They won their division, giving them the no. 4 seed in the playoffs. Once again, they faced 5th seeded Houston in the opening round of the playoffs with the Rockets (55-27) having homecourt advantage over the Jazz (54-28). The Jazz struck first with a 93-82 victory over the host Rockets in Game 1, followed by another victory 90-84 to give them a 2-0 edge returning to Salt Lake City. In Game 3 The Rockets quickly rebounded with a rare win in Salt Lake, but were halted after another Utah win on April 26th to put the Jazz up 3-1 in the series. However, the Jazz suffered a staggering loss in Game 5 in Houston, 95-69. The Jazz countered this embarrassing defeat by dealing the Rockets a 22-point blowout loss to give them the series-clinching victory 113-91, thus eliminating the Rockets for the second time in as many years.
Utah faced the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of The 2008 NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals which began on May 4th at Staples Center. It was the first time these two franchises had competed in a post-season series since the 1998 Western Conference Finals. Four individuals from that series were present in this one: Laker players Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, and Utah Head Coach Jerry Sloan and Assistant Coach Phil Johnson. Conversely, it was also the first playoff series meeting between Coach Sloan, and Lakers' Head Coach Phil Jackson since the Chicago Bulls defeated the Jazz in the NBA Finals that same year, 4 games to 2. Utah lost game 1 and game 2 in Los Angeles. However the Jazz held up their great home winning record by defeating Los Angeles in Games 3 and 4. The Jazz lost game 5 in L.A. and were eventually eliminated in Game 6 at home - a game where they trailed by as much as 19 in the second half, only to come back in the last two minutes. Their season ended with two desperate 3-point attempts by Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams as time expired that would have sent the game to overtime.
Over its 29 years in Utah, the Jazz has had many rivals. During the 1990s and in recent years, Utah and the Houston Rockets became heated conference rivals, often meeting in the NBA Playoffs. In 1985 The Jazz defeated the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs in 5 games. The Rockets dominated the Jazz during postseason play in the mid '90s, beating them in the 1994 Western Conference Finals and 1995 First Round. In 1997 the Jazz finally defeated the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, advancing to the team's first ever NBA Finals. The victory came after John Stockton hit a game winning three as time expired. In 1998, the Jazz and Rockets again would meet, this time in the first round. Utah entered that series tied with the best record in the NBA, held the #1 seed and promptly lost game one to the Rockets. After rallying back and winning game two, the Jazz would then go on to lose game three in Houston. Facing elimination — and the possibility of becoming only the second #1 seed in NBA history to lose to an 8th seed — the Jazz overcame a 20 point deficit and beat Houston and sent the series back to Utah for a definitive game five. The Jazz would easily defeat the Rockets in that game, advancing to the second round and cruised back to the NBA finals with ease before falling to Chicago for the second straight year.
Though there is some semblance of a rivalry between the two teams today, it had died down over the years. After 1998, the Jazz and Rockets would not meet again in the NBA Playoffs until 2007, where it was revived by an epic 7-game series. The Jazz fell down 0-2 to the Rockets and stormed back to win 4 of the final 5 playoff games, including the decisive game 7 in Houston. The playoff series victory was the Jazz's third consecutive over the Rockets, who hasn't won a playoff series in 10 years. The teams also met again in 2008 and the Jazz won again in 6 games. The rivalry also lost some of its luster when the NBA decided to revamp its divisional standings. In the old Western Conference, Utah and Houston were divisional foes; however, the Jazz has since relocated to the Northwest Division, while Houston is now in the Southwest Division. During the 1990s the Jazz also became heated rivals with the L.A. Lakers and Bulls, often battling them in important regular season and playoff games. Recently the Jazz has sparked up a rivalry with divisional foes the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers.
On Monday, June 23, 2008, it was officially announced that team members Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were selected for the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball team that will participate in the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. The Jazz are the only team in the NBA with two players on the 2008 Olympic squad.
Williams and Boozer joined former Jazz players John Stockton and Karl Malone as the only Jazzmen to be selected to play for the U.S. team. Stockton and Malone won gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games.
|1974–1977||Bill Van Breda Kolff||74–100|
*Games completed through May 16, 2008