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The Good Bits: 1997 Utah Jazz Finals Team Reunion

March 24, 2017

Players on Jerry Sloan
** Jeff Hornacek: The one thing that John [Stockton] and I seemed to do a lot after games was go down to the bar and have a beer with Jerry and kind of, you know, bring up things. “Hey Coach, can we do this?” He goes, “All right, we’ll do it tomorrow.” … To have a coach like that was great.
** Stephen Howard: He’s great. I mean, I love the guy. I mean, so much of what he taught me as a player has translated to other areas of my life, as far as the professionalism, execution, success, the hard work. Yeah, he’s meant a great deal to me in my life, and you know, really, a special person.
** Chris Morris: We know his situation, man. It’s kind of sad. You know, it kind of had me a little bit emotional, because, you know, he gave me the opportunity to come here, and you know, to extend myself as a Jazz player, to get to the Finals, day in, day out, to, you know, just to play. And he gave me that opportunity, and I thank him for that, as well as the Jazz organization, for allowing me to come here and show my talent.
** Bryon Russell: He made me want it. He made me work, and he had faith and belief in me. And it was just at a higher level, and I don’t know how many coaches take time with players at this level, but he seen me. He seen something, and, probably seeing a young Jerry Sloan who was hard-nosed and would get after it…We talked and had great conversations. And like I said, I don’t know how many coaches and players have that kind of connection now. I don’t know if they have that.
** Adam Keefe: Jerry’s a guy that gave me an opportunity. It was interesting. You know, he saw something — he and Phil [Johnson] saw something that no one else did, right? So, I came in — I was drafted as a power forward and played power forward my first two years, and you know, got here and basically never played power forward again. And it’s, you know, they kinda saw that I could play adequately at small forward in the NBA, and found a way in their system where I’d fit in and be able to contribute. So, I, for that I’m always appreciative.
** Antoine Carr: Jerry’s that type of man. He’s just a hard-nosed, old country boy. And that’s the guy I appreciate and I love, for who he is. He hasn’t changed even to this day.
** John Stockton: Jerry definitely is a father figure for most of us. He’s also a mentor. He’s also a teacher. He’s also a guy that eliminated the nonsense; you know, things that you don’t need to worry about. He allowed us to focus on what’s important. And I guess he shared his love for this game and made us understand that it isn’t about us. It isn’t about how much jewelry you can get out of a deal or how many standing ovatio–whatever. It’s about playing, and what happens between those lines.
Would you have had the success you did without Jerry?
I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t think any of us think so. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we all sat around Jerry like, you know, just w–hanging on every word last night.
** Stockton on what’s been the best part about seeing Jerry Sloan: What’s the best part is just being around him. It’s, you know, the twinkle in his eyes, the smiles, the smirks, the comments that he makes. I mean, he still treats us like we’re 30 years old, 25 years old, whatever we were at the time. And it’s always great to be around Jerry. Always.

What made this team so special/successful?
** Howard Eisley: Our camaraderie. We had a bunch of good guys. We all got along and we really enjoyed playing together. Coach Sloan demanded that we approach the game a certain way, and we all was on the same page. You know, that’s the one thing that really stands out — how together we was as a team.
** Stephen Howard: I think it was the singular vision that we had, and of course that permeated because of Jerry Sloan and you know, the way that he ran that basketball team. And I think we came back, on that 96-97 team, and just everyone had that singular focus of what we wanted to accomplish…You could feel that, you know, when we would play and the battles that we would win.
** John Stockton: Well, I think Jerry. You hear these guys talk reverently of Jerry now, and with him sitting there. And that’s neat to see, because he eliminated the nonsense. Guys got to come here from other systems, and the nonsense all went bye-bye… Jerry had us all committed to each other. He had us committed to defense. Had us committed to things that you don’t hear a lot about today, and — to relationships. To communicating on the bus, and caring about the other guy. Those things, I think, made us special, made us a little bit different.
** Bryon Russell: Our mindset was, you better be ready to play against us ’cause we coming. We not holding back on anything, so if you wanna be a part of this ass-whupping, we gon give it to you. So, I mean, we just came ready to play. And I think that, by us being a family, we knew what each other can do. You don’t get that nowadays.
** Greg Ostertag: That was a lot of fun to be a part of this team, ’cause we just went out and just beat people.

Today’s NBA and players resting games
** Stephen Howard: I’m not gonna knock the guys that play now. I think, you know, they’re phenomenal, but I do think that the one difference that we have in our era from the superstars from now, is that it was a much more physical brand of basketball. And so, I mean, you look at what [Michael] Jordan went through, where they would literally pick him up and body slam him when he would go to Detroit. And you get the stars that you have now, and they’re complaining about touch fouls, and the flops. And it was a man’s man game. And that’s, you know, I mean, you look at Antoine. I mean, that’s a man’s man right there. And so, i–that’s where I think — when people try to compare our era to this era where, I mean, you can never do that.
** Antoine Carr: For me, it’s a pride level, OK? Any job you do. I don’t care what it is. Trash man, construction. You put that contract down, you go in there, you do the job. Now, if you need to take some days off, you get docked for days off unless you’re actually truly sick. Other than that, look. I’m gonna call it like it is. I like these young guys. They play hard. My man [Stephen Howard] said it in a nice way, but I’m gonna say it the way the Dawg says it. They’re soft. I’m not gonna kid around with this. Quit messing around. Quit acting like you can’t take some bumps…
Karl Malone, John Stockton, I can name times when these guys had broken bones. They played through. …How many times do you have to go to work — and you’re not playing basketball — and your kids and everyone else is sick, and you’re sick, and you still do it? That’s my point. Have pride in everything you do. Everything we touch. You see another man, make sure you walk up and say good morning. Shake his hand. If you’re not doing that, you’re not being a real person.

** John Stockton: I think — this could get windy. I think a big part of the game is your preparation and your toughness, both mental and physical toughness, and I don’t know that it’s always tested if you’re rested. It kind of rhymed, didn’t it? You know, maybe you’re not as talented as another team, but you can outwork them. And if you can’t outwork them over a short period of time, maybe you can outwork them for a longer period of time when you have extended rest; you have extended time outs. It’s just one factor out of a game that’s taken out. So I don’t like any of that stuff.
As far as the, people missing [games], I remember going to a professional baseball game when I was still with the Jazz, over the summer, and I went to see one guy in particular — I won’t name his name — and he sat out. That was a day of rest for him, and I was incensed. And I, and I’ve never rooted or particularly cared for that guy since. And he — fair or unfair, it’s just what I believe in. I think people pay to see their favorites. They pay to see guys. They pay to have the best competition you can put on the court on any given night out there, whoever that is. If you’re hurt, that’s one thing, and, then the best 11 guys go lay it out there, and anything short of that — I think you can say science, you can say championships, you can say whatever — I think we have a duty to be present and lay our best out there every night…
I hope the league figures out a way to fix it, because I’d be mad if I went, well, and then there’s — told you it might get windy — I’d be mad if I paid to go see one particular guy and the Mailman doesn’t play? That’s just no–I don’t know. That doesn’t sound very appealing to me. And then what if a team is trying to make the playoffs and another team’s trying to make the playoffs, and a great team sits their guys against one; they win. Plays all their guys against the other one; they lose. I mean, where’s the justice in that? So, I don’t really buy into the science part. Sorry for the long-windedness.

Karl Malone
** Why Karl Malone couldn’t attend the reunion:

** Antoine Carr, asked if Karl Malone might make a surprise appearance: He might just come in in a helicopter. You know, you never know w–how the Mailman’s gonna deliver. So, we just gonna pray that he comes in. And again, his Dawg is here to protect him if he needs it.
** Carr, some more: That was my guy. I mean, you know, if you got a Mailman, you gotta have a Dawg. That’s just the way it’s gotta go. And I will protect him with my life, even to this day.
** John Stockton: I kept thinking, even to the point where I was talking out there [during the ceremony], that the Mailman was gonna come through the ceiling or something. I just knew he was coming…He’s maybe the biggest part, you know, biggest single guy in this whole franchise history, and it was disappointing. But we’ll get another day.
** Stockton on where he would put Karl Malone in today’s game: You can put him anywhere you want to. He’s more physical than all these guys. He’s every bit as fast. I mean, all the things you hear about athleticism-wise, shooting-wise, he had it all. I know he can guard them. I don’t, I’ve not seen a lot of guys out there that can guard him even to this day.
** Brad Rock on Karl Malone’s work ethic and playing through injury, and the player-media relationship of that era: I could tell you he did [play through sprained ankles swollen like a grapefruit]. I could tell you, I saw him take his shoes off and it looked like a tree root. It was just knotted and gnarled and he would go on — I saw him pull his shirt off. This was during that era. And I saw him pull his shirt off, and he had scratch marks deep enough to draw blood, through his uniform. Somebody had scratched through his uniform and clawed his chest…
And interestingly to me is, they kind of respected the media that covered them every day…They had this sort of grudging, I think kind of a grudging respect and accommodated the people that came to work every day the way they did. … There was some funny stuff, and they were funny guys, and if you happened to be on the team bus, and sometimes I would ride on the team bus when I was a beat writer because I was afraid I would miss a story. And Jerry would let us ride on the team bus, and I thought, well, you know, if something happens and I’m not there…So, I would go on the team bus. You would get their sense of humor there.

** John Stockton on Jeff Hornacek not aging: It is pretty amazing. I think there’s, I don’t know, surgeries or something. Hair dye. I mean, I don’t know what it is, but he looks good.
** Chris Morris, asked who’s aged the worst: I’m glad I shaved…Everybody look good. I was shocked. Everybody was, you know, looking good.
** Antoine Carr, asked who’s aged the worst: Probably me right now. I’m walking around limping right now. I went and trained my son the other day, so, it’s a little tough. You know, we’re all getting thicker. We’re all getting a little grayer. We’re all getting a little bit bent over.

** Adam Keefe: Playing for Coach Sloan, you realize you could probably accomplish that, you know, what [other teams] are doing in six hours [of two-a-day practices], we accomplished in 50 minutes because that 50 minutes was as hard as people could go. There was no, you know, no time for kidding around or joking. It was, basketball practice was practice, and we got after it, and then we got out. And I think that that helped people recover. It helped them improve and be able to rehab from injuries.
And so, the takeaway on one side was, you know, the idea of really working hard, and if you really work hard, you can do just about anything. And I think the other takeaway was, you know, enjoying the people you’re around. You know, to this day, I tell people all the time, it was probably the most enjoyable team I’ve been on. There were no ego conflicts. There weren’t, there wasn’t one side of the group that thought this guy should be playing, or they were on this guy’s side and not this guy’s.* It was just a great group of people.
*cough* Mark Jackson *cough*
** Stephen Howard: The Delta Center, which is what it was called then, was just something that, I mean, the opposition just, it was feared to go into, because once we would get on any type of a run, I mean, it would literally almost erupt.
** Antoine Carr on what made players on that team play through injury: That was a Karl and Stockton thing. I mean, I’ve seen Karl with his ankle blew up like a balloon, his thumbs and hands all messed up. And he still got out there. So, you know — I’ve seen John completely hurt back and everything, get out there and still hit a winning shot. So, it came from our Big Two, and then the rest of us, we brought the rest.
** Carr on Michael Jordan pushing off: I love you to death, Mike, but you know you pushed off two years in a row, brother… You have to own up to it. You pushed off. And you carried the ball…Course, Mike’s gon be like, “I’m gon choke him.”
** Jerry Sloan on The Shot: I don’t even know what happened after that. I was so excited, and excited wasn’t what I was about too much.
** Gordon Chiesa on what happened after The Shot: We’re on the plane two hours later…So, John didn’t see the winning shot until he saw it on my Panasonic — I cued up from, he’s walking down the aisle two hours later; we’re on the plane to go back to Salt Lake City — I showed John his winning shot on my old-school Panasonic that I had to get through Japan. They stopped making them. Richard Smith…he called up Japan, Panasonic in Japan, to order this Panas–order this VCR for me so we could have an extra one in case we needed it during the playoffs. And guess what? We did.
** Gail Miller on Larry H. Miller: He was a sentamentalist, and he would’ve been very happy with this reunion. He would’ve maybe thought of it himself and enjoyed having these guys here…If we played well, of course he was ecstatic. If we played well and won, that was even better. If we played well and lost, that was OK as long as we played hard. But when we didn’t play well [and lost], he always felt bad for the fans. He said, “They’re not getting their money’s worth, and I feel so embarrassed for this product.” But that was rare. But he was just such a purist, and he believed so much in these guys and what they could do, that anything less than their very best was hard for him.
** John Stockton on his statue: I try to avoid the statue. I’m afraid someone’s gonna go by and take a picture of me looking at it. So, I stay as far away from that thing as I can.
** Stockton on his first reaction to the mountain jerseys: I remember Larry asking me about changing jerseys, and I said, “Nope.” You know, I was, I know my opinion. I didn’t want to change anything. I, you know, I, Yankees don’t change their logos, was my kind of attitude, so why do the Jazz have to change theirs? But anyway, he took my advice and put it where it mattered, I guess, and out came this [mountain] logo. And you know, years later, you look back on it, that’s the logo, really, that we went to the Finals in and had our, you know, some of our greatest experiences and memories as players. And so, I’m kinda torn now. But I do like the original. It’s pretty nice.

Unintentional Dirty Quote Machines of the Reunion (UDQM)
** Chris Morris on Bryon Russell: He’s the jokester of the whole team, but I come right behind him and finish it off.
** Phil Johnson on Jerry Sloan’s coaching staff: It was just a joy to come, because we had a good time. And we had, we enjoyed, we had, there was a sense of humor about it. We enjoyed getting on each other.
** Antoine Carr, asked for his favorite Jerry Sloan memory: Actually, it was probably when he got on me a couple times.
** Carr on his unique relationship with fans: It’s one of those things I’ll never forget. It’s, able to take and do something that’s a little bit different than other guys have ever done, and it grows and grows and grows. And the fans and everybody get together and it becomes of those things that everyone just enjoys.

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