The Jerry Sloan retirement ceremony I attended at Energy Solutions Arena on Jan. 31 caused me to reflect on a number of painful truths, including how far the Jazz have fallen in just a few years. Yes, the Jazz are focusing on “growing with the draft” in the future, but I couldn’t ignore what was staring me in the face during their contest with the Golden State Warriors.
The retirement ceremony itself was nothing short of memorable, but as Craig Bolerjack took control of the mic and spoke of the impressive coaching and playing career of Jerry Sloan, I felt as though the entire arena was being asked to shut a coffin on the once immensely talented Utah Jazz franchise. I felt emotional when the crowd erupted in cheers as Bolerjack passed the mic to legendary Jazz men Karl Malone and John Stockton to speak a few words of affection to their former coach. After a momentary pause to let the feeling sink in, I instantly found myself yearning for a return to the old days. I then realized the career achievements of Jerry Sloan (seventh best winning percentage in NBA history, six division titles, two NBA finals appearances, 16 consecutive winning seasons, eleven 50-win seasons, 17 trips to the playoffs, and the fourth most wins of all-time), were associated with another time period that was long gone. I had been there for the brightest days of the Utah Jazz, and suddenly the future appeared grim.
If the retirement ceremony wasn’t enough to persuade fans of the descending gloom, the performance of Stephen Curry was surely enough. I’ve had the opportunity to watch some of the greatest players in NBA history pass through ESA over the years. I’ve seen CP3 and Jason Kidd pick apart the Jazz defense; I’ve seen Kobe Bryant singlehandedly propel the Lakers to victory over the Jazz in a playoff game; I saw Grant Hill before all the injuries, and I’ve seen arguably the greatest player of all-time from row eight—Michael Jordan. I’ve also witnessed “Stockton to Malone” in real life. All of these moments were memorable in their own way, but watching Stephen Curry was something else.
Stephen Curry is slightly different than the other all-star caliber players in the NBA today. Whereas a Lebron James immediately astonishes you with physical prowess and a Kevin Durant impresses you with wingspan and grace—Stephen Curry does neither of those, and yet he still knows how to dominate a game. He’s crafty, witty, shifty, and he knows the game of basketball inside and out. He’s just a regular kid that looks like he just graduated from high school, but his play speaks for itself. If you haven’t seen this kid play much, I assure you you’re missing something spectacular.
When I took my seat just behind the Warriors bench, I had a feeling I would witness a special performance. In the first quarter Curry came out firing like he always does, hitting a few quick 3 point shots and already progressing into double figures in points before the beginning of the second. He then, somewhat quietly I might add, cruised his way to more than 30 point by the end of the third quarter using a combination of off-the-ball screen curls, step back moves, crossovers, and pick and roll plays. Then, when the Warriors needed him most late in the game, Curry finished off his clinic with another fantastic array of 3 point bombs and underhand scoop shots to end the game with a whopping 44 pts. As I watched him play the Utah Jazz defense like puppets, I thought to myself, “where is our Stephen Curry?”
Maybe Utah’s Stephen Curry is Gordon Hayward. Maybe it’s Trey Burke. Maybe it’s Alec Burks. Or, maybe Utah’s Stephen Curry is not on the roster right now. Stephen Curry is a premier talent, but when he came out of college everyone said he’s too small, too frail, and not athletic enough. Now he’s an NBA All-Star, the Warriors are actually a decent team, and the Jazz are near the bottom of the NBA. It’s obviously difficult for the Utah Jazz to attract top-tier talent, but clearly something needs to change. They already gave a huge paycheck to Derrick Favors. Is Gordon Hayward heading for a similar paycheck? If so, is it the right move? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but for now I can only wish the biggest problem facing the Jazz this offseason would be deciding how much to pay Stephen Curry. Plain and simple, Steph stole the show.