Each NBA franchise goes through its fair share of ups and downs. Players get traded, injuries happen, and sometimes things just don't go as planned. For some teams, it seems like the universe has conspired against them and their success.
One of those teams is the Utah Jazz. Although the team has consistently done well (they've made the NBA playoffs the last six seasons), they've never been able to quite breakthrough and have never won a championship. Could they be...cursed? I know, I know -- but hear me out.
Why the Utah Jazz Might Be Cursed
Pistol Pete's Injuries
The Utah Jazz were originally the New Orleans Jazz (which makes a lot more sense, name-wise) and were introduced during the 1974-75 season. Their star player was Pete Maravich, also known as "Pistol Pete." Maravich played basketball at LSU, so the Jazz thought he'd be a great player to create buzz for their team.
Despite having a player like Pete Maravich, who led the league in scoring during the 1976-77 season with an average of 31.1 points (and this was before the implementation of the 3-pointer), the first five seasons in New Orleans were rough. The team had a collective record of 161-249 during that time -- well below .500. Maravich suffered from knee injuries from the 1977-78 season on and his game was greatly affected.
Magic to the Jazz: So Close, Yet So Far Away
The Jazz experienced a shot to the heart in 1979 when the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Magic Johnson as the number one overall pick -- a number one pick that once belonged to the Jazz. The Jazz sent their number one draft pick to Los Angeles in return for Gail Goodrich in 1976. Goodrich was an excellent guard and five-time All-Star who excelled while on the Lakers.
Unfortunately, after he was traded to the Jazz he suffered from an Achilles injury that affected his game and he was never quite what he was during his time with the Lakers.
If the Jazz had held on to their number one pick and chose Magic Johnson in the draft, they may never have drafted one of the team's best players of all time, John Stockton. Despite how great Stockton was, it's hard not to think of what might have been. Perhaps instead of the great Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the 1980s, it would have been Utah and Boston going toe-to-toe.
The Move to Salt Lake City + John...Who?
In 1979, the team moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City due to financial troubles. The team struggled their first few years in Utah, advancing to the playoffs just once between 1979 and 1984. Things started looking up for the Jazz in 1984 when the team selected John Stockton, although Jazz fans were not happy about the selection at the time. Stockton was fairly unknown when he was drafted, but he would make his mark on the Jazz in due time. The following year, 1985, the Jazz drafted power forward Karl Malone. Malone made quite the contribution to the team, averaging 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game in his rookie year.
During the 1987-88 season, Karl Malone and John Stockton established themselves as a fantastic combination and a threat to the rest of the Western Conference. Stockton started in 79 games and averaged 14.7 points, 3 steals and an impressive 13.8 assists per game. Malone added a whopping 27.7 points and 12 rebounds per game. They helped lead the team to the playoffs, where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. Although they didn't make it to the conference finals, it was clear that there was a ton of promise in this team -- particularly in the combination of Stockton and Malone.
That Damn Michael Jordan
The early 90's were filled with many "so close" moments for the Jazz.
In the years when Michael Jordan was "retired" and playing as No. 45, the Jazz ran into a different kind of dynasty. The Hakeem Olajuwon Houston Rockets stood in the way not once, but twice, of the Jazz advancing to the NBA Finals in the Jordan-less NBA. It's entirely possible that the 1995 Jazz could've taken down the Orlando Magic in a similar fashion as the Rockets, but we can only speculate.
That is, until the 1996-97 season.
The once-in-a-lifetime duo of Stockton and Malone were still playing harmoniously, and Malone took home his first MVP award. They defeated the Clippers, Lakers and Rockets to finally make it to the finals. There was just one team standing in the way of the team's first championship -- The Chicago Bulls. Ah, sh*t.
The Bulls were the reigning champs and finished the regular season with a record of 69-13 (Utah finished 64-18). Michael Jordan was back from his mini-hiatus and looking more like the Michael Jordan from the early 90's and the Bulls' first three-peat. This Finals series was an intensely close one, with four of six games being decided by a margin of five points or less. After the first four games, the series was tied at 2-2. MJ's infamous "Flu Game" was Game 5 of this series, where he scored 38 points to lead the Bulls to victory. Jordan scored 39 points in Game 6 to give the Bulls yet another championship title. Although Malone beat out Jordan for the league MVP, Michael Jordan was still Michael Jordan at the end of the day.
Although the Jazz were defeated, their championship dreams were closer than ever. The roster stayed pretty much the same heading into the 1997-98 season -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it. They finished the regular season with a record of 62-20, which likely would have been higher had Stockton not been injured at the beginning of the season. Stockton and Malone, now playoff veterans, found themselves in the NBA finals once again. Against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls -- once again.
With so much to prove, the Jazz took Game 1 in overtime. The Bulls won Games 2, 3, and 4, defeating the Jazz 96-54 in Game 3. Utah was able to come back and take Game 5 in Chicago, meaning Game 6 would be in Salt Lake City. Utah led for the majority of Game 6, but Michael Jordan took over the game in the final seconds. Jordan made another infamous late fourth-quarter shot over Bryon Russell to give his team the edge. The game ended after Stockton heartbreakingly missed a shot that would have sent the series to a Game 7.
What could have happened for the Jazz if they didn't have Michael Jordan standing in their way? The Jazz were led by two incredible talents and Hall-of-Famers, Stockton and Malone, and never won a championship. There's no doubt in my mind that the team would have won at least one championship if MJ had decided to stick with baseball, but he didn't.
Gobert's COVID Manifestation
Back in March of 2020, which was either two weeks ago or ten years ago -- I don't really know what time is anymore -- COVID-19 took the world by storm, including the NBA. Rudy Gobert, the defensive powerhouse of the Utah Jazz, thought he was making a lighthearted joke when he touched all the microphones at a pre-game media conference. Mere days later, guess who was NBA's "patient zero"? Yep, the Stifle Tower himself. The NBA was subsequently postponed indefinitely as the virus was expected to spread, and did, as we now know.
Gobert's teammate and Jazz star, point guard Donovan Mitchell, tested positive for the virus afterward -- likely having been exposed to it via Gobert. Gobert's attitude and perceived carelessness regarding the virus created tension between the two stars, and understandably so. I think it's clear that Gobert meant no malice in his actions, but looking back it definitely was not a good look for him.
As we know now in 2022, the virus would have made its way to the NBA no matter what, but you have to admit -- it's pretty funny (or cursed?) that Gobert tested positive for the virus he joked about two days prior which caused the entire NBA to shut down.
Are the Utah Jazz Cursed?
Call it fate, bad luck, or a curse -- the Jazz have certainly gone through the wringer since the inception of the team. Here's hoping things turn around for them soon.
The Quin Snyder's 2022 Jazz squad that included Gobert, Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson looked poised and ready to take back the Western Conference from the likes of Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks, Ja Morant's Memphis Grizzlies and even Chris Paul's Phoenix Suns. However, after dropping their first-round series to the Mavs and with the Golden State Warriors returning from their injury-induced sabbatical, it's possible the Jazz's window of opportunity may be closing.
Still, judging by the recent "so close" seasons reminiscent of the Stockton/Malone early years, it looks like the team is going to need to make some moves this off-season for another shot at their long-overdue championship.
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