As usual, the Jazz just... can't... quite... make it...
(I'm writing this in my word processor at 2 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, still smarting from the Jazz loss that ended our playoff hopes. The wireless I steal from the bed and breakfast next door is down, so I am writing this post while it's still fresh and relevant, but I won't post it until the next time I have Internet access again.)
It was an exciting ending to a terrible, terrible, painful game, and I can't help but think that if the Jazz had just taken it a little more seriously sometime before the end of the fourth quarter they might have forced a Game 7. But instead, somehow, the NBA's best home team became only the second team to lose at home in this year's playoffs, making the home team record for the playoffs 21-2. I also wonder whether we'd be in this same spot if we hadn't so benevolently given up Fisher to the Lakers. Woulda coulda shoulda.
I'm also a little embarrassed that a handful of Jazz fans were so misbehaved – throwing crap at the Lakers bench and acting like children – that the national announcers on ESPN were compelled to make note of it. At least they recognized that it was maybe 11 people out of an overall attendance of 19,911 enthusiastic, well-behaved fans. But in a year when Utah's fans have gotten some bad press for being a little demonstrative, this doesn't jive well – especially during the first two games when the EnergySolutions Arena was filled with boos for Derek Fisher , which just looks bad since Fisher left for his daughter's eye cancer.
I have to address this idea that Jazz fans are so loud and so hard to play against because they are a bunch of repressed Mormons who have nothing better to get worked up about. What a joke. And I know that it was just one guy who said it, and he immediately recognized that he had messed up by saying it. But still. What a ridiculous dismissal of, basically, an entire state. An entire group of people, whose passion for their home team is dismissed because of a religious stereotype.
It seems clear to me. Utah has always been the butt of the nation's jokes. We only became a state after we officially relinquished polygamy. Even today, 112 years later, we only make national headlines when there's a story about polygamy, or liquor laws, or the occasional shooting at Trolley Square, or a runaway Federal Heights girl who turns up years later in a burka, hanging out with someone who goes by the name Immanuel. But those of us who have spent the bulk of our lives in Utah know that there is a lot to be proud of about our state.
It's just hard to put your finger on it. Yes, we have our awesome natural landscape and scenery, but now that I live in the East, I have learned how little people know about Utah's uniqueness. I have friends here who thought that Salt Lake City was in Idaho. People here often have no idea where Arches, or Lake Powell, or the Great Salt Lake or the Bonneville Salt Flats are. (Then again, there are the die-hard granola-types I work with who consider Bryce Canyon the best place on Earth and who say Zion is their favorite vacation spot. THEY, at least, know something about Utah.) The one thing that is clearly linked to Utah that we've always had to be proud of is the Utah Jazz. And I think we're all very past due for a little payback for our long-standing commitment to the team.
Ever since I was a little kid, when the Jazz were all about Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Utah Jazz have been a really good team, just a half-tier or so below the best of the best. Yeah, we had a couple years in there where we really sucked, but for the most part, I think we've all seen the Jazz as our best hope – other than the Olympics – of really getting credit for being a, ahem, Pretty Great State. And that's why it's so, so frustrating that we can never really make it all the way. This year, I would have been happy just to see us make it through the Western Conference. There's only been one or two years when we really deserved to be the NBA champions. But in those other years, all too often we crap out too early, earlier than we should. WE'RE THE BEST HOME TEAM THIS YEAR. We have a team that doesn't rely on one star player. We have Korver, and Williams, and Okur, and Kirilenko, and Boozer, and Mills, and Brewer... We're not Lebron James' team, or Kobe Bryant's team. We're a good, well-rounded team, with lots of key players. And we always have been. We've never had a showy, flashy player like most teams have. We've never really had anyone who wanted to win for their own personal glory. It's very indicative of the Utahn mindset, of being proud to be part of a collective that is much more complex, diverse and interesting than most outsiders would give you credit for. That's why Jazz fans are pretty hard-core about it. And that's why it's so painful every time the Jazz fall just... a little... short...
One of these days, the Jazz will finally be NBA champions. They have to be. It's overdue. If there was a championship that was based on long-term well-roundedness and overall sportsmanship and a team mentality, I think we would have deserved to win that one long ago. I don't know as much about basketball as some people. I don't pretend to know how to really compare the Jazz's glory days to the glory days of the Bulls or the Lakers or the Celtics, in terms of stats or players or whatever. But I do know that we have had a lot of personalities to be proud of, and we're a franchise that really represents its hometown crowd well. And THAT'S why we take losses so personally. THAT'S why we're so offended when referees make calls that seem pre-planned to screw us out of what we've earned. THAT'S why tonight's almost-come-from-behind ending to a pretty strong season stings a little more than it should.
I do have to note, however, that Utah is consistently strong at “So You Think You Can Dance,” which kicks off its next season this Thursday! So maybe it's good that the Jazz are gone and we can turn all our focus to the Next Great Sabra!