From New Orleans Jazz to Utah Jazz

by MIKE BARRUS

Utah Jazz guard Gordon Hayward shoots free throws during the game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, March 23, 2012, at the EnergySolutions Arena. Photo by Mike Barrus.

It was the year 1998 and game six of the NBA finals between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls. The score was 87-86 for the Bulls. With five seconds left on the clock, the ball was quickly passed to John Stockton who then took a few steps and launched up a three-point shot at the buzzer. It seemed like minutes as the ball floated through the air until it hit the rim and bounced off. That was the closest that the Utah Jazz has ever come to winning an NBA championship. [citation needed]

The New Orleans Jazz was formed on March 7, 1974, and became the 18th team of the NBA. Hall of Famer “Pistol Pete” Maravich was the first player drafted to the team. New Orleans ended the 1974-75 season with a losing record of 23-59 and finished last in their division. Unfortunately, the Jazz never had a winning season while in New Orleans; they continued to struggle year after year. Sam Battisone, the founding owner of the Jazz, decided at the end of the 1978-79 season that the New Orleans Jazz would make the move to Salt Lake City, to become the Utah Jazz. Dave Blackwell stated that after trading several star players to earn a little extra cash and in return gaining older veteran players, the Jazz became a worse team. (“Utah Jazz”)

The Jazz fans in New Orleans were not very happy about the move of their team and a lot of them still feel that way today. KUTV News reported in 1979 that the mayor of New Orleans was not in support of the Jazz leaving New Orleans; he said he had no idea that the Jazz owners were unhappy enough to leave his city. The mayor mounted a campaign to try to keep the team, but that obviously did not have too great of an impact to keep the Jazz there.

An article from the New Orleans Times-Picayune published June 8, 2011, shows that even some of the players on the team were unhappy about the move. In the article, it quotes “Pistol” Pete Maravich when he said, “If, in fact, this team does anything, if I’m in a situation like Seattle and Washington for the championship, anything I do, I’ll do for the city of New Orleans. Whether the team’s in Salt Lake or not, I’ll do it personally for the city of New Orleans.”

A 1979 article in the Times-Picayune noted that the move was the second time that the city of New Orleans had lost a professional basketball team within ten years and the fans could not have been more devastated. There were many recent comments from fans in response to the Times-Picayune article, the majority of which were negative comments about the Jazz being in Utah. Some fans even went to the extremes to say that the Utah Jazz are cursed for not changing the name of the team and will be until they return the name to New Orleans. Perhaps there is some voodoo magic that cursed the Utah Jazz by coming so close to winning an NBA championship, but leaving them with just a taste.

As the New Orleans fans were devastated that the Jazz left, the Utah fans had mixed feelings about the Jazz coming to Salt Lake. A Deseret News article published October 16, 1979, expressed the disappointment of Jazz management in the lack of interest for the season opener. The Jazz managing partner, Larry Hatfield, estimated an attendance of 9,000 people. To his disappointment only a mere 7,721 people showed up to watch the game. Despite the disappointment of the Jazz management, the fans seemed to be more optimistic. KUTV News sent out a reporter around Salt Lake City who asked people if they were excited about the Jazz coming to Utah. All of those who were interviewed were thrilled about the move. Many people said that they would purchase tickets to the games and some fans already had season tickets.

Four years later, the Jazz finally had their first winning season, finishing at 45-37. According to an article by Doug Robinson with the Deseret News, there was a group of people who were interested in buying the franchise and moving it to Minnesota, which would make it the third home for the Jazz. Larry H Miller was a co-owner and wanted to avoid losing his team. However, he could gain $14 million if he sold the franchise. The article quoted Miller, who wrestled with the decision: “Thoughts were racing through my head like, what would I do with that much money? What does it mean to me? What would Salt Lake City be without the Jazz? How could I face the fans who would be upset by this?” It was then that he made the biggest decision in his life when he took a gamble and decided to buy the remaining 50 percent of the franchise to keep the Jazz in Utah. The gamble paid off and the Miller family still owns the team today. Had Larry H Miller not decided to purchase the franchise, who knows where the Jazz would be?

Now, 33 years later, the Jazz fans in Utah have been very pleased with their team after appearing in the NBA finals two years in a row. Fans are also proud of all of the great players who have made the Utah Jazz what they are today, including the legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. On the other end of the court, the fans from New Orleans still have bitter feelings towards the Jazz, even after all of these years. According to those in New Orleans, the team will be forever cursed so long as they keep the name “the Jazz.” Perhaps one day the Utah Jazz will overcome the voodoo curse and get rid of the bitter taste of only being second best.

Mike Barrus is a senior at The University of Utah. He is majoring in communication and minoring in Spanish.

Sources

Dave Blackwell, “Jazz hunt becomes Bucks only,” Deseret News, October 16, 1979.

1979: New Orleans basketball fans lose the Jazz to Utah,” New Orleans, LA, Times-Picayune, December 22, 2011.

KUTV News audio-visual collection A0303, Special Collections and Archives, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Jimmy Smith, “Unhappy anniversary, the day the NBA voted to move the New Orleans Jazz to Utah,” Times-Picayune, June 8, 2011.

Justin Davies, personal interview, February 25, 2012.

Utah Jazz,” CBS Sports.com.

Fleming, Frank. “Utah Jazz (1979-Present).” The Sports E-Cyclopedia-The Ultimate Sports Resource. Web. 25 Feb. 2012. http://www.sportsecyclopedia.com/nba/utah/jazz.html

Doug Robinson, “Late Jazz Owner Larry Miller spurned huge payday to keep team in Utah,” Salt Lake City, UT, Deseret News, May 6, 2010.

Jazz Basketball Investors, Inc.FundingUniverse.com.

Dave Blackwell, “Lively Jazz seek Warriors repeat,” Deseret News, December 10, 1979.

Daniel Rascher and Heather Rascher, “NBA Expansion and Relocation,” Journal of Sport Management 18 (2004): 274-95.

Dave Blackwell, “Utah Jazz,” Utah History to Go, State of Utah.

Advertisements