Utah Jazz fans breathed a sigh of relief and they didn’t even know it. Whether conscious of it or not, fans need to be told that being a small market team has its major advantages.
Tucked in the Rocky Mountains, sheltered from the storm that is NBA politics, sits Energy Solutions Arena, and around it in a 40-mile radius, most of the Jazz fans. They rarely get superstars. They produce them, sure, but then those stars leave and have lukewarm careers elsewhere (see Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams).
The skill that players get in Utah can be attributed to a myriad of factors: the favorable environment, great fans, a solid front office—surely these all play their role, but in the case of the last 21 and one half years, it was most likely Jerry Sloan’s coaching prowess that made those players what they were and are.
A less-fortunate system is now dealing with the shell of what D-Will was in Utah. Yes, fans realize that they never landed Melo or LeBron and that they won’t land Kevin Love or even Lance Stephenson. What the fans don’t realize is that because of Utah’s small marketry, they also don’t have to put up with the Stephen Jacksons and Donald Sterlings of the NBA. They probably wouldn’t believe that it’s worth it.
The Indiana Pacers are showing us the effects of poor chemistry and infighting as we speak. The Clippers have endured Sterling and have played admirably, although arguably distracted, the last two weeks of the playoffs. With big names come big egos, and small market teams (OK, most small market teams) avoid this involuntarily by not being L.A., Miami, Boston, or Chicago.
Even the most uninteresting part of basketball to the average fan, coaching, is not immune from the drama of big markets. If you count the number of times Jerry Sloan was fired in his 21-year tenure, you’ll get an idea. If you need more data, look no further than Gregg Popovich and his 300-year stint in the small market of San Antonio, Texas. Last year there were a record 12 coaching changes after the regular season, stretching from Denver to Atlanta and back to L.A. This year, we’ve seen Mark Jackson fired with little fanfare.
When was the last time Amar’e Stoudemire punched a fire extinguisher in Utah? When did you last see Blake Griffin thrown to the ground and watched a fight ensue?
Did you hear the bullets exploding out of the end of Stephen Jackson’s pistol outside a club? If you did, I’ll bet you weren’t in Salt Lake City.
Yes, living in northern Utah has been kind to Jazz fans, whether they realize it or not. They didn’t get a championship parade in 1998 and they didn’t even get a playoff appearance this year—unfortunately, other small market teams have fared little better. One thing is sure: Donald Sterling and the drama surrounding stories like the one we’ve been enduring the last few weeks are at least 500 miles away, tucked deep in their Southern California beds. Because of that, we sleep well in ours.