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Scott Winterton, Deseret News
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Key Moments In 40 Years Of Jazz Basketball In Utah

Scott Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – June 8th may not be a date that most Utah sports fans have marked on their calendars, but it should be.

On June 8, 1979, it was determined by a vote among NBA owners that the New Orleans Jazz would move operations to Salt Lake City and become the Utah Jazz. According to reports, the decision was met by applause by the owners as they convened in a closed-door meeting in Chicago.

Salt Lake City had been home to a pro basketball team before. The Utah Stars of the ABA were extremely successful, winning the league’s championship in 1971 and having strong attendance figures before folding midway through the 1975 after the ownership group failed to make payroll.

Although the Jazz, who were unable to switch to a new name prior to the start of their first season in Utah, struggled in their early years in Salt Lake City, both on the floor and in the stands, the team has grown to become a major institution in the Beehive State and an enormous part of the state’s culture and identity.

In the minds of KSL’s Unrivaled hosts Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry, the Jazz are unquestionably the biggest and most beloved sports brand in the state.

To Mitchell, the Jazz are a source of common ground for all Utahns.

“Some of like BYU, some of us like Utah, some of us like Utah State, but all those people that maybe don’t like other college team, they all like the Jazz,” said Mitchell. “It’s that thing that brings us together as a community, in our sports loyalty, it’s something we can all agree on.”

In celebration of the Jazz’s 40th anniversary in Utah, here’s a list of some of the key moments in team history, in chronological order:

Jazz Win Division, Make Playoffs

Despite swirling rumors that the struggling Jazz may not be long for Utah, the team finally put together a winning season and made it to the postseason after clinching the Midwest Division title with a regular season record of 45-37 in the 1983-84 season.

For his efforts, legendary head coach/funnyman Frank Layden was honored as the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

In their first appearance in the playoffs, the Jazz defeated the Denver Nuggets three games to two in a best of five series before being eliminated by the Phoenix Suns in six games. It was the start of a remarkable run of playoff-worthy seasons that spanned 20 years.

Jazz Draft John Stockton

The Jazz’s selection of Gonzaga point guard John Stockton with the 16th pick in the 1984 NBA Draft was met with boos by the fans, but those jeers turned into years of cheers as Stockton went on to become one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Originally drafted to backup All-Star Rickey Green, Stockton took over the starting point guard job a few years into his career. The rest is history as Stockton went on to rewrite the playmaking record books.

Responsible for many other key moments in team history, Stockton became the league’s all-time leader in assists and steals. His marks in both statistics are generally considered to be untouchable by any player who has since played in the NBA and will likely stand the tests of time.

Jazz Draft Karl Malone

Just one year after drafting one future Hall of Famer in Stockton, the Jazz selected another in the 1985 NBA Draft when the team picked Karl Malone out of Louisana Tech with the 13th overall pick.

Combining with Stockton to form the most lethal pick and roll in the game, Malone quickly became one of the game’s best players. By the end of his career, Malone had racked up two MVP awards, 14 All-Star selections, 11 All-NBA First Team honors and many other accolades.

He finished his career with an unsuccessful chase at a ring with the Los Angeles Lakers that lasted just one season. Malone also ended his pro tenure as the league’s second all-time leading scorer.

Larry H. Miller Keeps Team In Utah

During the offseason in 1986, the Jazz ownership group, which was split between Sam Battistone and Larry H. Miller, was approached with an offer to sell the team to a group that intended to move the team to Minnesota.

Despite receiving a generous offer for a buyout that was well above the team’s market value for his share of the team, Miller flipped the script and bought Battistone’s half of the team to become the team’s full owner, thus keeping the team in Utah.

While Miller passed away in 2009 due to complications from diabetes, the Jazz continue to live on and enrich the Utah community. It turned out to be a good decision by Miller and his financial interests, as the team’s value has increased to over $1 billion.

Jerry Sloan Becomes Head Coach

Seventeen games into the 1988-89 season, Frank Layden stepped down as the head coach and was replaced by Jerry Sloan.

Sloan had already had a terrific playing career as a legendary figure with the Chicago Bulls and turned out to be an even better head coach. He continued to lead Utah to the playoffs in 19 of his 23 seasons as head coach and amassed 1,223 wins as head coach of the Jazz.

Since retiring under strange circumstances midway through the 2011 season (more on that later), Sloan continues to remain close to the team in a senior advisor role.

Utah Hosts ’93 All-Star Game

For the first and so far, only time in franchise history, the Jazz hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1993. It was one of the crowning events in the history of basketball in Utah as the Jazz put on a great show in a star-studded event.

Surrounded by all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neale, and Charles Barkley, it was the Jazz’s duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone who shined brightest on the big stage. The two were named co-MVPs of the game and capped off a great All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City.

Jazz Make Back-To-Back Finals

In 1997, the Jazz finally got over the hump and advanced to the NBA Finals when John Stockton hit a walkoff, series-ending 3-pointer against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

After Stockton’s shot, the Jazz faced Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the Finals. They ended up losing the series in six games, but it wouldn’t be the last that Jordan would hear from the Jazz.

The Jazz made the Finals again in 1998 after a second-consecutive 60-plus win season. Unfortunately, like the year before, Chicago won the title in six games. That series was ended with a dramatic shot by Jordan in the final seconds of Game 6 in Utah that iced the game and clinched the Bulls’ six title led by Jordan.

Stockton Retires, Malone Leaves For L.A.

The 2002-03 season was the final year of the Stockton/Malone Era for the Jazz. Following the team’s first round exit to the Sacramento Kings, Stockton announced his retirement with a casual remark in his postgame interview in the locker room, classic-Stockton style.

Sensing that the end of his playing days were near, Malone jumped ship and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in an effort to win a championship. It didn’t work out the way Malone hoped as the Lakers were defeated in the NBA Finals by the Detroit Pistons that season.

It marked the beginning of a new era for the Jazz.

Jazz Experience Major Shakeup In February 2011

A lot had happened since Stockton and Malone left the team when Jerry Sloan abruptly retired midway through the year in February 2011. The team had managed to rebuild and ascend back into respectability by forming teams that made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

The team had a promising core with All-Star Deron Williams and rookie Gordon Hayward when Sloan shockingly stepped down after more than two decades midway through the 2010-11 season.

About a week and a half after Sloan’s retirement, the team elected to restart its roster by trading Williams to the New Jersey Nets for Derrick Favors.

It was speculated and later confirmed that Sloan’s retirement was heavily influenced by a disagreement between the coach and Williams.

After years of trying to rebuild the team after the departure of Stockton and Malone, the team essentially went back to the drawing board with two major moves that happened extremely close together.

Jazz Hire Quin Snyder

Following Ty Corbin’s unsuccessful tenure as Jerry Sloan’s replacement, the team hired Quin Snyder as the team’s head coach in June 2014.

Snyder immediately got the franchise back on track as he developed an extremely young and raw team into a well-coached, disciplined squad that played freely on offense and with great tenacity on defense.

After missing the playoffs in Snyder’s first two years as head coach, the Jazz made the postseason in 2017 and have since made the playoffs in three straight years to the current day.

Under Snyder’s tutelage, Gordon Hayward became an All-Star and Rudy Gobert developed into an elite defensive presence, earning the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018.

Jazz Acquire Donovan Mitchell

In the same summer that Hayward left to sign with the Boston Celtics, the Jazz acquired Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell, the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, in a trade with the Denver Nuggets.

Mitchell immediately made a major impact in the league, finishing second in the voting for Rookie of the Year with a spectacular introduction to the NBA. He also won the league’s Slam Dunk Contest during the All-Star break while earning a reputation for his extremely kind and giving nature in the community.

Along with Gobert, Mitchell has become the face the franchise.