Posted by: Shauna Brock on February 13th, 2011The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
Methinks the national media doth protest too much. And in the light of that, it can’t make up its ever loving mind.
I initially sat down to scribble these words out at 4:30 in the morning after Jerry’s resignation. Don’t give Jerry that much credit – the cats woke me up and I’m starting to feel a connection to Portland’s Brandon Roy. If he wants to go out and play ball after the surgery I know he just had … more power to him. Anyway …
I’ve cried, I’ve read, I’ve thought about the novel I’m writing. I’ve wrung my hands and wondered what could have been done differently and thought about chucking my Williams t-shirt and told the media to stop blaming him and yelled at Yahoo Sports and Fox Sports and ESPN and cried at CBS’ Sports story on it. I’ve watched the Jazz fall apart against Phoenix and had my feelings about certain starting centers for this team reaffirmed.
In a day, Yahoo Sports went from blaming Williams to defending him. Of course, they didn’t need to defend him until Kobe spoke out and told the media to shut up. When the Laker golden boy opens his mouth, like with The Prince down in Miami, the media scrambles to cover its ass. Good stories mean access and without access, reporters can’t write. But over the course of the last few days, the stories I’ve read have definitely split two ways: players are whiny babies and the coaches need to reclaim their authority or players are in charge now, get used to it.
One thing I’ve noticed: the players are whiny babies articles seem to be coming from the more small market circles while the players are in charge now articles are written from Kobe’s er … Yahoo and ESPN’s point of view. For me, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
This is no longer a league of old world ownership and dominance by the coaches and anyone who says differently needs to take a step back and realize we’re living in 2011. Successful players are business savvy and understand that they are playing to support themselves for the rest of their lives. Not all of them have the ability to become coaches or broadcasters.
Spoiled by years of collective bargaining agreements that saw their salaries rise, they find little reason to listen to spoiled owners who see them as one thing: a commodity. These men know that they are replaceable and if Miami or New York wants to offer them more money to be a commodity, they’re going to go. Yet, interestingly enough, they also know the value of loyalty. We love Kevin Durant right now for a lot of reasons, one of them being he has stated he wants to spend his entire career in Oklahoma City. To people in small market America, that means everything.
Well, Chris Paul felt the same way about New Orleans and Utah fans should not fool themselves. Deron has stated that money is not his option, he wants to win a championship, but we are the 25th smallest market in the NBA and it appears that the days of small market teams contending might be coming to an end. Players live not on salary alone but endorsements and Nike wants little to do with stars in Utah that no one cares about. Stars in New York sell shoes and for every deal that is signed, an agent pays for a new boat.
But on the flip side, to say that this is a league of pushover owners and coaches is to give too much honor to these princely players. Dan Gilbert’s time in Cleveland has been idiotic and hurt the league. Lebron’s power in the wake of free agency last year drove up contract prices as teams sought to make sure they had the start that would suck Lebron in. Gilbert created a monster in a child, giving him access to all the rooms in the castle and never once sitting him down and teaching him about curbing ego and leaving it all on the court. He switched coaches around dependent on Lebron’s will, and the Cavs are now a team mired in mediocrity with no leadership to speak of and a coach who is better than what he has been given. But, in all of this scandal, all of this mess, we have not given enough credit to the ownership and coaching that exists in places like Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and yes, Utah. Gregg Popovitch is a legend in his own right, holding tight to the titles that small market San Antonio has won. Is it that Pop was able to change with the times and Jerry not? Perhaps. Is it that he lucked out with Tim Duncan? More likely. We love Timmy because he is loyal. But what are the reasons we love men like Shaq? Loyalty was hardly his stamp. And even though the Lakers have the largest following on the planet, we wouldn’t dare to call Coach Jackson a pushover in terms of his relationship to Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol. Is Doc Rivers a patsy to Rondo or Garnett? An easy answer is no.
The media protests too much. The media seeks a crying baby for its scapegoat. In the race for ratings and interviews, they forget that the winners in this league – coaches or players – play. And when they are done playing, it’s time for them to walk away.
Dearest Jazz fans, Jerry is tired. He sat at the press conference table looking 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter. All season, despite his promise to sign the contract extension, Jerry’s body language has said that he is done. The fiery man we know and love had been a shadow of himself, sitting through fouls that at one time would have had him cursing refs so loudly that my deaf mother could hear him be ejected from the game. He sat there out of staid loyalty, showing to fans and players that winning the championship is all that matters. But, as we saw, when that kind of tunnel vision happens, when it becomes completely singular, it is time in fact to hang it up. Tunnel vision eats away at passion and without passion, without energy, the drive to actually win means little. Jerry’s been tired for a long time and sometimes, walking away is as competitive a decision as staying. He knew it was time to hand the reins over, and something tells me he’d be ready if the Jazz were at the top of the division.
Jerry walked away because he knows that he just doesn’t have 28 regular season games left in him. We need to honor that. Did the final confrontation with Williams put his head on straight? Perhaps. But to say that Deron pushed him out is unfair. If Deron really pushed Sloan out, Corbin would have been labeled as an “interim” coach and the Jazz would be looking for a coach from outside the system. Instead Greg and Kevin made the decision to make him head coach and even if they replace him in the off season, right now he has full authority under the culture of the Jazz. Corbin is keeping, for the time being, Scott Layden, and it is widely assumed that Hornacek will also step into a role as an assistant coach. These men know the system. These men are the system. These men are fighters who have the energy to beat up not just on the kids, but on the mid-career veterans who are perhaps not as good as we thought they were.
To question Jerry’s decision and force talk of Deron’s pushing him out is to discredit a fifty-year NBA career and the strength of a man who taught most of us what it meant to play basketball. It takes away from every single choice he made as a head coach.
Yes, loyalty pays off in small markets and once the dust clears, perhaps we will see that it would be better to look outside the system, to try and lure coaches with no history here. But small markets have to use more than money to bargain and it’s those outside influences that bring people in. Players come and go, systems and coaches remain. Any head coach in Utah will not have the notoriety of a Phil Jackson and if you don’t believe me, remember that Phil is a commercial making celeb and Jerry is known only in NBA circles.
Jerry Sloan loves basketball. He took a look around and saw his game had changed. He saw stars (yes, multiple) whom he could not coach the way he wanted to coach. He saw players who spent a year in college not to learn the game but because they felt they’d learned everything they needed to in high school and went to college because of league requirements. He saw a media devoted to the sexy and the controversial. And he saw that nothing had really changed. Ever. It’s always been about the Lakers and the Celtics and the Knicks. But be careful what you say about small market teams – from the Spurs in basketball to the Packers in Football, with the right combination they have as much punch as any team that has the media salivating at its doorstep.
The media doth protest too much. They have never had true scandals to write about regarding Utah. Sure, Larry got controversial and loud. And Karl’s mouth often ran ahead of him. (I would like to give the Jazz props for posting Karl’s remarks on their website, even though they were not quite flattering to the organization.) But the media, in a desperate attempt to give a story credibility is hunting for scandal. It’s all they know how to do. They want to blame someone rather than accept the truth: that in the new and changing world, Jerry Sloan is almost 69 years old and he knew his time had come to walk away. It goes against everything we believe, but it is not a scandal. It is the truth of life. A man is ready to retire. He’s accepted it. So must we.
We Jazz fans do not know what lies ahead. AK’s hefty contract is almost up and while I believe the Jazz will extend an offer, his time in Utah may be ending. Deron’s contract extension options are also coming up. Al Jefferson is both the player we wanted and the player we feared he might really be. Youth is giving way to bench player experience, veterans signed to one year or moveable contracts. This is Raja’s last stop. Possibly Francesco’s. Fesenko continues to develop, but he is not a 30 minute a night player. Our hopes look to a new generation – Evans and Hayward, both players who while skilled, were never really scouted by the big league players. We miss Matthews, but the Millers had to make some decisions and we do not know if under the circumstances with the Jazz this year would have made him the star he is in Portland. Like in Utah, he’s risen to heights of success because of injuries. It’s good for him. It’s great for him, but we cannot hold bitterness. We have watched players like Mo Williams leave for bigger contracts, but in Cleveland, Williams’ weaknesses as a leader show. Mayor is a solid point guard in Oklahoma City, but still a backup and will perhaps forever be.
The Millers are committed to winning, never doubt that. But unless those stars are gathered right out of the draft, it’s nearly impossible to bring a free agent to a place like Utah. Coaches don’t want to come to this snowy valley, they fear a lack of rings. Players don’t want it, they still see a “weird” Mormon culture and while the contract they sign with Utah may be comparable to anything they might get elsewhere, they will not get the endorsements that will sell their face to the world. Call them divas if you want, call them babies, but this is their livelihood and we, as a free market society, will pay what the market will bear. We complain about how much they make and then turn them into heroes. In the end, who are the real hypocrites?
So, media, stop seeking out scandal. If you want to write about what the league is becoming, look to everyone. Look beyond the players, look at the coaches and the owners and league commissioner David Stern. Look at your own reporting. Look at the “Heat Indexes” and Laker watches. Look at what you yourselves have created. Jerry’s resignation leaves a void in the world, and if people were paying attention, they’d have seen this move coming. Even if we didn’t want to.
There are things to write about, honest conversations to have. The CBA talks are going to lead to a lockout or a strike. The players have been given too much latitude and the owners too much power. Stern’s leadership is lacking and that shows across the board. Jerry’s resignation gives us a chance to really talk about these issues, really throw open the door and figure out what’s wrong and what is right with the NBA. But the truth is, by the end of the night, there were other stories to report about in the NBA and NBA TV couldn’t wait to get away from the Sloan press conference and back to plugging the Celtics/Lakers’ game.
Some things never change.
For the best, and worst, of the coverage, thank you to SLC Dunk for the list of articles: http://www.slcdunk.com/2011/2/11/1988898/catching-up-on-all-the-jerry-sloan-phil-johnson-stories-links
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