By Scott Howard-Cooper, for NBA.com
Posted Sep 9 2009 1:37PM
The Jazz delegation, not counting the guests of honor and their families and friends, includes seven members of the Miller family, the big bosses from the front office, the assistant coaches, and the trainer and assistant trainer, among others. The list, at last count, is 16.
Let's call it a soft number.
The better estimate for the celebration as coach Jerry Sloan and John Stockton head into the Hall of Fame, hating every millisecond of the pomp and circumstance, is somewhere in the hundreds of thousands -- roughly the population of Salt Lake City and its surrounding communities.
Or perhaps it is in the millions ... as in the entire population of all Utah.
Not merely a milestone occasion for a bedrock franchise of class and success, having two stars enshrined the same weekend is especially welcome in this of all Jazz summers, after the mourning and the defeats and the complications. Sloan going in would have been great anyway -- a tip of the John Deere baseball cap to one of the underappreciated NBA people of the last 20 years. Stockton going in would have been great anyway -- haircuts above the ears all around. To have the current coach and former point guard go in together, though, is what really makes the moment.
Utah -- the team and the place -- can use it. Larry Miller died in February of complications from diabetes, midway through his 24th season as owner. Sloan lost an older brother in March. The Jazz went from 54 wins, the Northwest Division banner and the second round of the Playoffs in 2008 to 48 victories, third in the Northwest and a 4-1 opening-round loss to the Lakers while allowing 106.6 points a game in 2009. Rod Hundley, the only remaining staff member from the New Orleans days, retired after 35 years as play-by-play man. Carlos Boozer missed 45 games to injury in the regular season and Mehmet Okur missed three of five postseason contests. Boozer changed his plans and did not become a free agent, setting the stage for the potential distraction of nonstop trade rumors amid the real possibility he will stay on the roster for months. If the Jazz win and reclaim their former status as serious threats in the West, it wouldn't be a surprise if he stayed the entire season.
Death. Defeat. Meaningful retirements. Roster complications.
This week in Springfield, Mass., came along at the very right moment.
Stockton and Sloan, both the ultimate in unpretentious and dedication, will hate the grandeur and be searching for the escape hatch from any formal event. But fans back home celebrate the dual inductions, something the organization needs now.
"Absolutely," said Greg Miller, Larry's oldest son and the new boss. "To be honest with you, in my mind, I don't connect the events you mentioned with what's going to happen to Jerry and John. Each kind of stands on its own. I wouldn't want anything to happen now, good or bad, to detract from the moment for Jerry and John."
One last perfectly timed Stockton assist.
"It's an important milestone in the history of the Utah Jazz," Miller said. "It's a very significant event. The reason I think it's significant is because it shows a credibility. It shows our organization has been blessed to have high-caliber people. I think Pete Maravich is our only Hall of Famer so far. To have two people go in at the same time is very impressive."
Very emotional, too. A question to Miller about how the inductions will likely prompt a flood of memories forces him to pause for several seconds to gather himself during the phone conversation. A question about Stockton in particular, a Miller favorite who has kept a predictably low profile in retirement, brings another long pause.
Miller is remembering watching on TV at home, the windows open on those crystal May afternoons Salt Lake City can have, when Stockton hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference finals at Houston that sent the Jazz to the championship series against the Bulls. Miller shouted in celebration through his living room then. He is crying now.
"I'm sure I'll well up a time or two" at the ceremonies, he said. "It's all good. It's all upbeat and happy."
It has been a while since the Jazz have been able to say that. The franchise lives the joys again this week, with Stockton back at the forefront, Sloan still there and the anticipation of being able to come back in a year for the induction of Karl Malone.
What a mood. What a welcome moment.
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