Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Jazz and My Religion: Practically the Same Thing.

It’s that time of year again. The time when the Jazz break my heart, just as they do every year.

I suffer from extreme loyalty. It’s a condition I wish I could shake, but I can’t. When I take assessment of this and weigh where my loyalties lie the most, it comes down to, in order:
Utah Jazz
And, much like my religion, the Jazz never seem to pay the dividends my loyalty deserves.

I’ve been a fan since I was about 8 when I lived in the Bay Area and my grandparents had season tix to the Jazz, back when they practically had to give them away, and they would send me care packages of Jazz goodies and autographs. It’s true what advertisers say, if they can get their hooks in you at a young age, they have a customer for life.

Then, we moved to SLC when I was 10 and would often go to the games with them, back when getting tickets near their seats was no problem at all. After my grandpa died, my grandma would trade off taking me and my cousin Rick to all the games. From then til now, the Jazz have been, more or less, a perpetual disappointment. There were the Mark Eaton and Adrian Dantley years that barely brought respect, let alone a title. Then, there was the Stockton and Malone era, which were the salad days of Jazz devotion. They got better, they won, they became household names, they even made it to the finals two years in a row. But, they couldn’t get it done. Every year, they come back like prodigal sons, and we take them back because we love and believe in them (and because there isn’t much else to root for in Utah) and they continue to embarrass us.

I’m not saying Utahn’s have it as bad as Bostonians, but it’s tough to be a sports fan in Utah. In addition to the Jazz, BYU and the UofU have never really broken through to the elite either. In fact, what they do is tempt us. The U’s basketball team, led by Andre Miller and Michael Doleac, got to the National Championship in ’97, I think it was, and managed to give Kentucky a run for their money. But, they couldn’t hit a shot in the second half (no surprise) and ended up losing. Even though I went to BYU, we all lost when that happened.

BYU has had some success with their football program, but the bowl games they get invited to are never the big ones and, even though they’ve been doing well in whatever bowl was willing to have them lately, there were many years that they couldn’t be counted on either. See, Utah teams don’t just lose, they lose dramatically. They defeat themselves first and watch as the other team takes advantage.

Wins and losses mean more in Utah because each team also represents Utahns and, more specifically, Mormons. When a team does well on the national stage, it makes Mormons seem ever –so-slightly less strange. See, Mormons are very much the same way. We rarely compete on a national stage and win either. Maybe it’s a fear that success will bring corruption. Maybe it’s because we’re too naïve. Maybe, we’re afraid to compete in the real world. Personally, I believe it’s pieces of all 3 and can attest they all live, in various degrees, in my psyche.

The paradox here is, most sports teams, other than BYU’s, are not made up of members of the church. There are no Mormons on the Jazz. I can only think of a couple ever. The U isn’t stocked with them either. But, the perception outside of Utah is that Utah is a small market, it’s full of Mormons, and no one outside of Utah cares how good we are because they assume everyone in Utah is LDS. And Mormons are weird right? And isn't Utah where the polygamists live? And I heard you can't have alcohol in Utah, etc.

It is funny though how much the Jazz resemble a team Mormons would make if they could. I guess, since Larry Miller, the owner of the team, is LDS, that’s what the team is, but nevermind that. They play hardnose, never complaining, never showboating, team before individual, always adhering to a strict behavioral code that is unwaveringly stressed by a noble leader (Jerry Sloan) who walks it like he talks it. They are the embodiment of Mormon values and have been as long as Sloan’s been at the head, and will continue as long as he’s there. He even has a reputation for benching guys who don’t follow his rules, kinda like being disfellowshipped. Not to mention, like the church, they have a disproportionate number of white men.

I’m about to watch game one of the Jazz/Rockets series and, while I have high hopes that the Jazz can seriously compete this year, I’ve learned not to delude myself into believing they have a chance to go far, let alone win it all. In fact, there is one thing I CAN count on this postseason. We will manage to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Just like every other year.


Marilyn said...

Hi, Jon.
Even though heartbreak may be just around the corner, at least the first two games have been terrific!! Love you and love your blog. Mom

AnnieB said...

Doesn't your faith in both, bring untold happiness!? Would you really have it any other way? It's the believing and the hope and the pride and the steadfastness in your team--that's what's important. Whether victories or defeats, you know you'll always stay true.
"Can I get a witness!?"
Hallelujah! Go Jazz!

Natalie and Bryan said...

This is exactly why people should stay away from the big team sports and enjoy a good game of racquetball ... as a player and not a fan of course.