By Jefferson W. Boswell
Special to Salt City Hoops
Last week, a Philadelphia Eagles fan was ordered to remove his Washington Redskins McNabb jersey during the Eagles’ morning practice. Donovan McNabb, former NFC Pro Bowl starting quarterback, holder of numerous Eagles’ team records, who had spent the first decade of his career with Philadelphia, had become a pariah. Recall that McNabb was traded by his organization to division-rival Washington for two late round draft picks and a ham sandwich.
Last month, a LeBron James fan was escorted out of the stadium at a Cleveland Indians game (sporting his crisp white Miami jersey). Along with just about every other non-Floridian sports fan, I abhorred ‘Bron’s “Decision” – which has been likened to dumping your girlfriend on National television in front of nearly ten million viewers.
Lest we forget, even our beloved Karl Malone, whose jersey hangs in the rafters and his bronze statute guards the arena, chased his proverbial greener pastures with the hated Lakers.
As a Jazz fan, the sky was falling when Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Wesley Matthews bolted for larger markets and deeper pockets. I’ll admit, I considered cancelling my subscription to League Pass and transferring my allegiances to the ABF (the American Beekeepers Federation). Miraculously, though, Kevin O’Conner pulled a rabbit out of his hat and landed both Raja Bell and Al Jefferson (the jury is still out on unproven rookie Gordon Hayward).
Amidst a changing roster, Matthews will surely be missed by basketball aficionados along the Wasatch front for his hard nosed hustle and willingness to play lock-down defense night in and night out. Korver will still be near and dear to the hearts of the ladies of Utah – and the three-point line in Energy Solutions Arena. Even Ronnie Brewer, who would dive cut and slash through the paint (only to slash his hamstring in Memphis) will be missed in the year to come. Boozer has been vilified and denigrated and abused – but when he played, he was a monster on the glass and almost automatic for 18+ points (granted, however, in six seasons with the Jazz, he averaged only 59 games per season). Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’m grateful for what Booze brought to the team, when he actually played.
Having spent many hours, days, months, and years cheering for these players – celebrating in victory and commiserating in defeat, I ask myself:
Only time will tell if I can set aside my allegiance to the Jazz and cheer for Wesley Matthews to continue his Cinderella run in the NBA. I will check on Wesley’s continued success and hope that his glass-high top fits in Portland, as long as the Trailblazers are safely in the rear-view mirror when the Playoff push begins. But then again, when he steps onto the floor against the Jazz with the opposing team’s name on his chest, all’s fair in love, war, and basketball.
If the Chicago Jazz succeed (and compete in the East with the preemptively crowned Miami Heat), it will be because Boozer stayed healthy, Korver was keeping defenses honest on the perimeter, Ronnie B was slashing to the hoop – all coupled with a young, strong point guard in Derrick Rose and a defensive-minded Joakim Noah. Watching and cheering for Chicago to climb the Eastern Conference standings won’t be the same contradiction – their success in red and white couldn’t push Utah out of the playoffs like Portland. While I wish these former-Jazzmen the best, I’m still looking forward to the ribbing the ESA crowd has – for Boozer in particular (mark your calendars now for February 9, 2011).
Now that he is safely enshrined in the Hall, I can admit: when Karl stepped on the court in Laker gold, I was cheering for him…unless he was playing against the Jazz. Re-read that sentence: I was cheering for HIM; not the Lakers. As much as I would have liked to see the Mailman sporting the hardware he so desperately coveted, I find it oddly fitting that his most injury plagued season came in a Lakers uniform. His iron-man ability couldn’t follow him to Hollywood. In that fateful game five of the 2004 Finals, Malone watched in street clothes as his last chance for the Larry O’Brien trophy slipped out of reach. As we saw in his HOF speech, it was Larry Miller and Jerry Sloan and John Stockton that shepherded Karl Malone to the Naismith Hall of Fame – not Dr. Jerry Buss and Phil Jackson and an aging Gary Payton.
Rest assured, I won’t be attending any games sporting the opposing team’s jersey. Security won’t have to escort me from the stadium à la the LeBron James and Donovan McNabb fans – but I don’t think its so wrong to want to see our former heroes go on to success wherever their paths may lead them – as long as they choke when they play the Jazz.
Jefferson Boswell will be a regular contributor to Salt City Hoops. He can be reached at jeffersonboz [at] gmail [dot] com.