Thursday, February 10, 2011

The end of an era

I was upset when the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls last night, but so, apparently, was Jerry Sloan. I doubt his decision to resign had anything (well, at least not everything) to do with 10 losses in 14 games, but the timing still seemed odd to me.

It's a bit ironic to me that Jerry finally pulled the plug after losing to Chicago, of all teams. The team that many are calling "the Jazz of the East," the team that ripped Jazz fans' hearts out 2 years in a row while Michael Jordan was king, the team where Jerry got his start. Even though the NBA is completely different from what it was when he was an All-Star, Jerry essentially ended his NBA career where he began it.

As much as I hate to see him go, however, I will always have deep respect for Jerry Sloan.

I have been watching the Jazz play for as long as I can remember. When I was 10, I could name every player on the team, from Karl Malone all the way down to Adam Keefe. During the games my parents let me stay up to watch, I would often have a notebook beside me so that I could keep track of the Jazz players' points and rebounds and the opposing team's turnovers. It didn't matter that someone a lot smarter than me was keeping track of all the stats; I was invested in the game and I put my heart and soul into it.

After the Jazz lost the finals 2 years in a row, the magic started to dissipate. And then Stockton and Malone left, and I knew that things would never be the same again. However, it was comforting that Jerry Sloan was still there.

After the "dream team" of 1998 trickled into retirement, I slowly lost my interest in the Jazz. My heart was broken to see it all end the way it did without a ring, and I just couldn't bring myself to get into it all again. It wasn't until I had moved out that I really got into the game again. I started watching Jazz games at my apartment because it made me feel like I was at home. It wasn't the same as watching the games with my dad, but it helped abate the homesickness a bit.

By then, we had Deron Williams, a player many fans hoped would one day live up to John Stockton's legacy. I started to get cautiously optimistic again, and soon I was almost as excited about the Jazz as I was when I was 10 years old.

It isn't easy being a Jazz fan, though. Year after year, I see so much potential squandered by stupid decisions and lazy plays. We Jazz fans know that the Jazz have always had it in them to win a championship--the only thing stopping them is, well, themselves, and that is more frustrating than anything.

But still we hoped. Still we had faith in our players. We kept watching the games, cheering on our team. There's a reason why the Energy Solutions Arena is such a hard place for away teams to play in--the fans believe.

After today, though, I'm afraid the Jazz I grew up with is gone for good. I'm sure Tyrone Corbin will do a good job with the Jazz, but the original legends are all gone now. Stockton, Malone, Hornaceck, Hot Rod Hundley--I missed them all when they left, and no one was able to replace them. The only people left now who even played during the glory days are Andrei Kirilenko, who passed his height a long time ago, and Matt Harpring, who entertains us from the sidelines now rather than the field.

But as each person left, Jerry Sloan was always there, and that meant good, fundamental Jazz basketball was still there. Players were still expected to tuck their jerseys in during practice, and cameramen never dared spy on conversations Jerry had with his team. Jerry was old-school, and the Utah community greatly appreciated that. Without Jerry, and his faithful partner Phil, Jazz basketball will become something else. I have never known a the Jazz without Sloan--for me, the two are one and the same.

It's going to be so strange not seeing Jerry catch flies while he watches his team play. I have always wanted him to show a little bit emotion beyond that clueless look that is permanently stuck on his face, and I secretly hoped that winning a championship would put a real smile on his face. Instead, I'm just going to have to live with the teary-eyed expression he had on his face when he informed the press that it was time for him to move on.

I'll probably always have a Jazz team to root for, but I am going to miss Jerry Sloan. He may not have ever gotten a championship ring, but he was the 3rd winningest coach in NBA history. Jazz fans have always been a bit spoiled because the team has won consistently. I still believe that they'll win the championship some day; I'm just sad that Jerry won't be there to witness it. At least not with the Jazz bench.

And who knows--maybe the Jazz won't change drastically. Jerry Sloan basketball is so incorporated throughout the state that it will be hard to snuff out. Or maybe, change will be good.

In short (too late), I don't know what will happen to the Jazz, but I do know this: the Sloan era may be over, but his legacy will live on.

Thank you, Jerry, for giving us something to cheer about for so many years.

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