By Justin Davies
Special to Salt City Hoops
I once had a roommate who survived on routine. Now when I say the guy survived on routine, I’m not exaggerating. I truly believe that if his routine was altered by more than a few degrees, he was at best not functional – and at worst impossible to be around. The guy was up at the exact same time every single morning, ate the same breakfast, lunch, dinner, stuck religiously to the same bedtime, always bought the same cheap toothpaste, told the same bad jokes… The rigid structure he’d created was the only way he knew how to function.
I used to mock him for this. I’d hide his supply of tuna fish so he’d be forced to eat something different for lunch, or I’d purposefully plan spontaneous group activities late at night in hopes we’d keep him from his precious early bedtime. I’d do just about anything I could think of to spice up what I viewed as terribly mundane. When it came down to it, I really just couldn’t understand how it was he could function like that day in and day out, so I took it upon myself to try to experience a little spontaneity.
So now here I am, years later, feeling pangs of sympathy for my old roommate. Not because I’ve simply become a more understanding and all-around better person… No, far from it…
You see, without knowing it, I had my own routine. As much as I thought I lived life off the cuff, and embraced spontaneity, I had my very own version of his rigid schedule. A routine that I’d become fully dependent on over the last two decades without so much as an inkling that I had.
When, in the shot span of a couple years, the team that defined my sports identity successively lost a broadcasting icon, an indelible owner, an interminable coach, and the anointed future of the franchise, I found myself shaken.
Suddenly that concept of a rigid routine that seemed so foreign to me began to make sense. Sure, change is exciting, but at the same time it can be terrifying. We tend to find comfort in the familiar.
I always knew that Stockton and Malone would no longer be able to defy their age, and would be forced to hang it up, so while it was an adjustment when those two left the Jazz, we found refuge in those figures we thought would never leave. We let Hod Rod’s smooth tones and odd phrases sooth our nerves. We let Larry’s fire and emotion give us a foundation for belief. We let Jerry’s stoic resolve anchor our faith in the team. And we let Deron Williams come in and give us hope for the future… And, I think for a moment, some of us felt that we just might be lucky enough to endure another 15-20 year ride…
Now, here we are, smack in the middle of the whirlwind season that has been the 2010-2011 campaign for the Utah Jazz.
Hot Rod and Larry seem almost like distant memories now. Jerry’s raking leaves and getting used to life on the farm. And Deron? Well, Deron’s in New Jersey.
And after over two decades of more or less knowing what we could expect out of the Utah Jazz on any given season, we’ve all found ourselves mired in the fog of an unknowable future.
The NBA as a whole sits on the cusp of a possible lockout and a new collective bargaining agreement. Stars have been migrating for larger markets, “super teams” have been forming; and shouts for revenue sharing, hard caps, and other measures have been heard, as many fear what might lie ahead for small market teams.
The Jazz sit smack-dab in the middle of all of this, as fans struggle to decide what the identity of this team truly is.
So here we are, just a handful of games into the “new guard;” and while the jury still may be out on who the leader of this team, or what the identity of the franchise is, I think we caught a glimpse of something Monday night when this team took to the court against defending Eastern Conference Champions. Through all the uncertainty, all the change, all the new faces, the electricity in the Energy Solutions Arena remained unaffected. The fans were still there, clamoring for a reason to get behind this team. Buzzing at the athleticism of Derrick Favors. Lauding the speed of Devin Harris. And, as always, rewarding scrappiness and determination with roars of approval.
For a moment, all the despair that the Salt Lake Valley had been wallowing in for the past months, all of the uncertainty, the hand wringing, the whispers of doubt… All of that seemed to evaporate in the confines of the arena Monday night. And yes, the Celtics came out victorious, and yes, this team is on the outside of the playoffs looking in, but many fans left feeling as if they’d seen the birth of this team’s identity. And while I still think we have a ways to go before we truly get a sense as to what that identity is going to be, I did get the sense that maybe, just maybe these guys know what they’re doing after all.
In a league where the superstar reigns supreme, the Jazz refused to be dictated by the question of whether or not theirs would graciously return to fight another day, or strike out for larger pastures. A team as reliant upon routine and stability as their fan base had become went ahead and defied all convention, sending their superstar to New Jersey as suddenly and shockingly as the departure or their legendary coach.
The wisdom of that decision will probably be debated for the next few years, but for the first time this season, the Jazz seem as if they’ve grabbed their reigns, and begun to build a framework for the future.
My roommate’s routine, which I found so silly in its rigidity, gave him comfort, while I took refuge in the unplanned and unexpected. Those two seemingly incompatible approaches to life seem to encompass what we’ve seen happen to our beloved Jazz this year. And, it just might end up being exactly what this ‘new look’ franchise needed to stay afloat with the cards they found themselves holding. This team is far from perfect, and they still have a long ways to go if they hope to eke into the playoffs… But now that “broken routine” that once seemed so wrong feels less like a horrifying departure from the only comfort we’d known, to something more like a promising new beginning.
Then again, maybe I’m just an optimist.