Retire Matt Harpring’s Number

October 5th, 2010 | by Jefferson

by Jefferson W. Boswell

Sundiata Gaines (2) drives against Raja Bell (19) with the new Jazz logo at center court during a public scrimmage at Energy Solutions Arena, Saturday 10/2/2010

(Scott Sommerdorf/The Salt Lake Tribune)

If you didn’t look close, you might have missed it.  Something was different Saturday night with Sundiata Gaines, he of Cavalier-Killer, Green-Team, Buzzer-Beater fame, when the Utah Jazz held their intra-squad scrimmage.  In addition to the new logo, new court, and Gaines’ new position on the depth chart (fourth) – ‘Yata had switched uniform numbers….from 15 to 2.

Recall that a nifty financial move sent Matt Harpring’s limping contract to Oklahoma City for luxury tax relief last year.  As part of that deal, however, promising rookie point guard Eric Maynor was sacrificed to a division rival that has only gotten better with the emergence of Kevin Durrant as a true superstar.  To fill the void in Sloan’s point guard rotation, Utah went out and scooped up Sundiata Gaines from the Idaho Stampede.  Most assumed he would find a spot at the end of the roster and end of the bench…instead, he calmly hit one of the biggest shots of the year for the Jazz.  Peculiarly, he spent his first NBA season sporting number 15….only days removed from Harpring’s exit to OKC.  [Note: Matty never donned a Thunder jersey – he failed to report and was later waived by OKC].

This year, Harpring will join the broadcast team for the Jazz as a color commentator, alongside Craig Bolerjack.  Another key member of the Jazz TV crew? Jeff Hornacek.

I have always been impressed with Horny’s ability to excel in the Jazz system.  Playing with John and Karl would have made almost anyone better [compare, however, Greg Ostertag].  Jeff Hornacek came into Utah and seemingly helped a good team get over the hump.  With Horny’s help, the Jazz won back to back Western Conference Finals [damn you, Michael Jordan].  In essence, though, Hornacek was a role player that put in the work night in and night out.  To thank him, the Jazz organization hired him as a broadcaster (and part-time shooting coach), and hung his number 14 in the rafters.

(George Frey/AFP/Getty Images)

Could the same fate be in the future for Matt Harpring?  Number 15 is no longer occupied by Cav-Killer Gaines.  Intrigued by the possibility, I took a closer look at the careers of these Jazzmen:

Jeff Hornacek Matt Harpring
Seasons in Utah 7 7
Total Games Played in Utah 477 474
Career Minutes/Game 31.5 26.4
Career Points/Game 14.5 11.5

Career Free Throw Percentage

87.7%

75.3%

Career Rebounds/Game

3.4 4.9

Career Assists/Game

4.9

1.4

Playoff Games in Utah

100

39

While Hornacek has the statistical advantage, there must be some allocation for the teams he played for.  In the late 1990s, Utah was a perennial powerhouse in the Western Conference.  Harpring played only one season with the Stockton-to-Malone dynamic duo.  Interestingly, during the 2002-2003 campaign (the last stand of Stockton and Malone), he posted career numbers:

78 games 31.4 mins. per game 17.6 points per game 79.2% FT percentage 6.6 rebounds per game 1.7 assists per game

Following Stockton’s retirement and Malone’s foray into Laker-land, Matt Harpring was left as a solid role player, unexpectedly elevated to Team Captain by Jerry Sloan.  Harpring provided veteran leadership to a young team and helped maneuver Utah through some of the leanest years in the current era.  He  surely played a key role in bringing Coach Sloan’s ethos of fundamental and hard nosed basketball to life.  I recall watching Matt Harpring drive to the hoop with more zeal than most fullbacks.  Hampered by injuries and the additions of Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and D-Will, Harpring’s on-court role with the team diminished, but his character seemed contagious: blue-collar Jazz basketball lived on…if starring new talent.

Matt Harpring’s attitude and effort will hopefully be echoed by the current roster.  As fans, we will have the opportunity to observe him calling out poor decisions and wasted effort as a color-commentator.  I’m not sure that Sundiata Gaines uniform number change was in honor of Matt Harpring.  I’m not even sure that Harpring is or was as valuable to the team as Jeff Hornacek.  I am sure, however, that Matt Harpring epitomized the very reason I cheer for the Utah Jazz. He is an aggressive defender that played hard every time he stepped onto the court – he played the way we wish all of our favorite players would play.  Perhaps his name and number in the rafters will influence a new generation of hard work and making the most of each opportunity.

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Contact Jefferson at jeffersonboz AT gmail DOT com

Jefferson

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4 Comments

  1. Mychal Lowman says:

    I’ll always miss Matt Harpring. He brought so much to the table. I’m hoping Raja Bell can be the current version of Matt Harpring. You always knew when Matt Harpring came off the bench to guard someone that the opposing player was quietly thinking, “Crap, going to be a long 2nd quarter.” He left it all on the floor and hustled. Not to mention his workouts were legendary. I certainly can’t wait for him to bring his talents and knowledge to the Jazz broadcast. Such a smart and intelligent guy.

  2. Jeff says:

    My favorite thing about Harpring was the CONSTANT soundbite regarding his high school football career. Anytime he came in the game the crew running the broadcast would instantly snap over to that storyline “You know, Matt Harpring could have played football at the next level?” It was great.

    Nice article.

  3. Brad says:

    I loved watching Matty hustle and scrap and claw while on the floor, working for everything he got. But more than that, I will always remember how impressed I was with him when I had a chance to attend Leapin’ Leaners and Low-tops. While a few of the other players had their agents with them and/or would only participate in the assigned times (“no autographs until I’m at the autograph table”), Harpring was outgoing, friendly, and seemed to genuinely understand that it was due to the fans’ interest that he was able to make a great living playing basketball. I was especially impressed when he went and struck up a conversation with a group of older ladies who were clearly in heaven just being at the event. In short, unlike a lot of today’s athletes, he seemed to appreciate what he had, as opposed to feeling that he was entitled to it.

  4. Tarrence says:

    I am not sure that Matt Harping rises to the level of having his jersey retired. I would love it if the Jazz added an honor roll to recognize players like Matt, “Big T”, BRuss and similar players that made a significant contribution, but did not reach a level of having their jersey retired.

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