When I was a kid, the Utah Jazz were one of my favorite things about life. I wrote an illustrated book about them when I was in second grade, with a page for each player, even the ones that never saw the court. I idolized guys like John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Jerry Sloan; basketball mammoths who still mean the world to fans of the Utah Jazz. When John Stockton hit the game-winner to send the Jazz to their first NBA Finals in 1997, it was the first time in my life that I experienced crying out of joy. Those guys were my heroes, and I respected them so much.
20 years later, I’m all grown up. I’ve got two kids of my own, two little girls. The Utah Jazz still remain a steady and consistent part of my life. I can’t remember the last time I missed a game, even if it meant having it on TV while spending those crucial moments of the evening with family after work. If you ask my three-year-old who her favorite player is, she’ll tell you in her sweet little voice, “Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert”; because she can’t decide on just one. I share the same opinions as her, as far as favorite Jazz players go.
With your contract with the Utah Jazz expiring this summer, you have some big decisions to make. Jazz fans all know you’re a grown man with a family to care for, so the decision is understandably personal and ultimately up to you. That being said, let me tell you a few things.
You’ve given the Jazz things they haven’t had in a long time. For the first time in six years, they had someone representing the organization in the All-Star game. Everyone was so excited and proud of you for what you had accomplished, after how hard you worked over the past few years to get there. Becoming an All-Star is a big deal, especially for a small-market team in Salt Lake City. You showed the world that talent and hard work can put you on the map, no matter how small your “market” may be.
For the first time in five years, you led the Jazz to the playoffs. You helped the team overcome early adversity and defeat a tough Clippers team in a dramatic seven game series. You were terrific the entire postseason, and carried the Jazz on your back for the majority of the playoffs. You gave the Jazz the hope being a future contender in the NBA, something that has been monopolized by only a few teams the past several years.
You’ve been a fan-favorite since your first season. Your notorious hair cut has been sported by kids, teenagers, and grown men of all ages; mostly because they want to be like you. Whether they could pull it off or not didn’t matter; if Gordon Hayward did it, they were going to do it. That’s a microcosm of what you mean to this franchise. You are looked up to by thousands and thousands of people. Boys, girls, men,and women sport your #20 jersey around the state. Your play on the court and your conduct off it have contributed to the admiration of those holding up the Jazz franchise. You have secured the trust of the people of Utah, and Jazz fans across the globe.
From one grown man to another, I respect you. I respect what you have done for Salt Lake City and surrounding communities. I respect the fact that you write a personal blog, and share with the world your thoughts, opinions, goals and aspirations. I respect that you’re a good husband and father. In a world obsessed with high-profile status and celebrity bling, I respect that you are humble and conservative.I respect that you are a good leader, always holding yourself accountable and to a higher standard. I respect that you always go out of your way to thank the fans in interviews and social media posts. I respect that you treat media members with kindness and respect, always giving insightful remarks in post-game pressers, even if you just lost a tough game. I respect that you hold your hand over your heart and lower your head during the national anthem, every time. In an industry filled with self-glorifying prima donnas and drama queens, I respect that you focus on the game of basketball and treat it with respect and dignity. No matter what happens this off-season, I’ll respect you. I’ll root for you wherever you go.
There aren’t many sports organizations that have fans like the Utah Jazz. The amount of loyalty and commitment these fans give to the organization is second to none in the NBA, and is something that many organization struggle with year-to-year. These fans care for you and your well-being. They’ve been there with you through the lows of a 25-win season years ago, and the high of a brilliant 51-season this past season. They gave you a standing ovation and chanted your name in unison in the final moments of this season, showing their appreciation for what you have given to this franchise. No matter what happens, Jazz fans are behind you.
I’m sure you are more aware than anyone, but big things are coming for the Utah Jazz. Everyone realizes that you are at the center of those plans. It’s upon your shoulders that the Jazz can win multiple division titles, playoff games, and maybe even an NBA Championship. But they need you. The whole team, franchise, and fan base needs you.
You are the type of player that the Utah Jazz deserve. The Stockton, Malone, and Sloan days have long since passed. Their names hang in the rafters and will forever be hailed by Utah Jazz fans. It’s easy to imagine your name hanging up there with them someday. Some kids out there look up to you as their hero, just as I did to John Stockton and Karl Malone in my younger days. Maybe you will hit the shot that makes them cry happy tears. Maybe they will be inspired to write books about you and the rest of the team, like I did in first grade. Maybe they will imitate and practice your shot in their driveways, wanting to be like you. Maybe they will see the Jazz win their first ever NBA Championship, after coming so close years ago. Maybe they will grow up naming their kids after you, after all you did for them. Maybe your name will be spoken in the same breath as Jazz legends. Maybe long after you retire, fans will cheer and stand in appreciation any time you make an appearance at a game or event. Maybe this is all in your future. But it all depends on one thing: if you stay.