Everyone loves a winner (well everybody who is on their side that is). For years the Delta Center was filled up with large crowds cheering the Utah Jazz toward an NBA championship which they were sure would come.
Well it still may, but not this year or for a few years to come anyway. The Stockton-Malone era is almost over and with it comes a bunch of new names with fairly unknown talents.
Obviously many of the fans have left; I'm not sure that the Delta Center has had a sell out this year, where as a few years ago you couldn't get a ticket to see the Jazz play the Clippers.
But this is the natural way of things if you take the time to look at it. Only a few teams in the history of sports have been able to continually win year after year, era after era as great players decline into retirement and new players come in. The few teams that have have either been lucky or are in large markets where they can buy title after title. Two that come to mind are the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers. But those cities also have teams that hit great heights in other sports and yet have not been able to maintain that altitude like their counterparts. Note the LA Dodgers and the New York Knicks.
Personally, I don't see this decline of the Jazz as such a bad thing. The media spends a lot of time worrying about the decline and commenting on it, always asking the question, "What is wrong?"
What is wrong is that as good as Stevenson and Kirilenko are, they are not Stockton or Malone or Hornacek, and they never will be. They may turn out to be great but they are different people with different talents and different attitudes.
But to me Kirilenko is a breath of fresh air. Here is a person who really likes playing basketball and is happy to do it. I guess what really made it apparent to me that Malone has passed his day on the court is in the first game of the season, when a player from another team got knocked hard to the floor and Kirilenko lent him a hand to get up. Malone went right over and told him never to do that again.
Tells you something about the previously all-star-in-my-book-but-no-longer player doesn't it?
But I see this downward trend more as a test for the community than I do for the players or Jerry Sloan. Are we a state of fair weather fans that only support winners, or can we be like the Green Bay Packers fans that come out no matter what the record in -20 degree temperatures to enjoy what they do have?
I have attended a number of games in the years that Stockton-Malone-Hornacek played. I loved them winning and still deeply admire the two gutsy guards.
But I personally liked the days when I could buy a ticket for $5, sit in the high seats at the Salt Palace drum and watch the Jazz lose. The reason for that was that when they won it was so special. I liked the days of Adrian Dantley and Ricky Green. I admired Mark Eaton in his early years and actually through his whole career. When the Jazz first got to Salt Lake even Pete Maravich was still on the team; only a shadow of himself by that time, but I still think he could have taken more than two thirds of the hot shot guards in today's NBA with his moves.
Maybe those days will return now. Only one thing though: I doubt I'll be able to get a ticket for $5 ever again.