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The History of the Utah Jazz from 1974 to Today

By Jennifer Hassan in NBA
| December 11, 2020 3:56 am PDT
The History of the Utah Jazz

Is Utah world-famous for its jazz music? No, no it is not. Utah is, however, famous for world-class skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and its plentiful national monuments.

A more fitting name for Utah’s NBA team, therefore, would be the Utah Monuments. Or even the Salt Lakers.

However, by calling themselves the “Jazz,” the team reminds us of the complex nature and history of America’s professional sports teams.

Let’s take a look at how the Jazz got started, and how they ended up in the American West.

Brief Overview of Utah Jazz History

Mardi Gras

When New Orleans was granted an NBA franchise in the mid-1970s, the city named the new team, “The Jazz,” in honor of that city’s musical heritage.

Sadly, the Jazz were only in the vibrant and historic city of New Orleans for five years, before relocating 1700 miles to the northwest.

There were a number of reasons the team made the move. First, although a popular team, the Jazz were not bringing in the hoped-for revenue, and it was hoped that Salt Lake would bring in more in ticket sales.

Secondly, there was no good stadium for the Jazz in New Orleans. The team bounced around among venues like the Superdome and the Municipal Auditorium, but each had its issues.

Furthermore, the entire month of February was so wild with Mardi Gras events in New Orleans that there was no room, time, or attention available for professional basketball.

Who Founded the Jazz?

The idea to create an expansion team in the first half of the 1970s came from the NBA itself. However, the idea to bring the team to New Orleans was the work of nine men who worked assiduously to bring an NBA team to the Big Easy.

The head of this nine-man group was founder/owner Sam Battistone, who had high hopes of creating a long-lasting basketball dynasty in New Orleans, but who ultimately admitted that bureaucratic challenges—such as the venue problems listed above—made the city an inopportune site to house the NBA franchise.

When Did the Jazz Join the NBA?

Unlike older teams that were created before the NBA, the New Orleans Jazz were born right into the league in 1974 as an expansion franchise.

Jazz Playoff History

It took the Jazz a decade to make it into the postseason. In that time the team struggled to find their place in New Orleans, made a move across the country, and then had to work hard to find their place in Salt Lake.

However, once the team found its way into the playoffs, they never looked back. If NBA betting had been more widely available in the eighties, you would have seen massive action around the Jazz. As it was, only visitors to Vegas could capitalize on the team’s sudden prowess.

Their first playoff season, as you can see below, was in 1983 – 1984. They never missed a playoff season in the next two decades, with the 2003 – 2004 season their first time left out of the postseason excitement.

Season Results
1983 – 1984 Lost to Suns in conference semi-finals, 4-2
1984 – 1985 Lost to Nuggets in conference semi-finals, 4-1
1985 – 1986 Lost to Mavericks in opening round, 3-1
1986 – 1987 Lost to Warriors in opening round, 3-2
1987 – 1988 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4-3
1988 – 1989 Lost to Warriors in opening round, 3-0
1989 – 1990 Lost to Suns in opening round, 3-2
1990 – 1991 Lost to Trailblazers in conference semi-finals, 4-1
1991 – 1992 Lost to Trailblazers in conference finals, 4-2
1992 – 1993 Lost to Supersonics in opening round, 3-2
1993 – 1994 Lost to Trailblazers in conference finals, 4-1
1994 – 1995 Lost to Rockets in opening round, 3-2
1995 – 1996 Lost to Supersonics in conference finals, 4-3
1996 – 1997 Lost to Bulls in NBA finals, 4-2
1997 – 1998 Lost to Bulls in NBA finals, 4-2
1998 – 1999 Lost to Trailblazers in conference semi-finals, 4-2
1999 – 2000 Lost to Trailblazers in conference semi-finals, 4-1
2000 – 2001 Lost to Mavericks in opening round, 3-2
2001 – 2002 Lost to Kings in opening round, 3-1
2002 – 2003 Lost to Kings in opening round, 4-1
2006 – 2007 Lost to Spurs in conference finals, 4-1
2007 – 2008 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4-2
2008 – 2009 Lost to Lakers in opening round, 4-1
2009 – 2010 Lost to Lakers in conference semi-finals, 4-0
2011 – 2012 Lost to Spurs in opening round, 4-0
2016 – 2017 Lost to Warriors in conference semi-finals, 4-0
2017 – 2018 Lost to Rockets in conference semi-finals, 4-1
2018 – 2019 Lost to Rockets in opening round, 4-1
2019-2020 Lost to Nuggets in opening round, 4-3

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Utah Jazz Head Coach History

This is a surprisingly shortlist for a team that has been around for nearly half a century. Especially since you can see that turnover was high in the first several years.

However, Jerry Sloan coached the team for nearly half its existence, from the 1988 season through the next 23 years.

Tenure Coach Prior Experience
1974 R. Scott Robertson Louisiana Tech coach
1974 Elgin Baylor player, Lakers
1974 – 1976 W. “Butch” van Breda Kolff Memphis Sounds coach
1976 – 1979 Elgin Baylor see above
1979 – 1981 Tom Nissalke Rockets coach
1981 – 1988 Frank Layden Atlanta Hawks asst. coach
1988 – 2011 Jerry Sloan Bulls coach
2011 – 2014 Tyrone Corbin player, Raptors
2014 – present Quin Snyder Atlanta Hawks asst. coach
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Mark Eaton – A Hidden Gem

There was an automobile mechanic who would often struggle to fit under the hoods of the cars he was hired to maintain. Mark Eaton stood well over seven feet tall.

Eaton played center for the Jazz from 1982 through the 1994 seasons. Strangely, he wasn’t convinced by his high school P.E. teachers to go out for basketball. He studied automotive technology after high school and opened his own auto repair shop.

He was discovered and ended up being drafted by the Utah Jazz. Eaton was not an effective offensive player, but after Wilt Chamberlain told him how to focus on defense, and to let the more agile players focus on scoring, his quality on the boards improved.

“Improved” may be an understatement. He was the NBA All-Star in 1989 and was voted the league’s Defensive Player of the Year twice, as well as the NBA Blocks Leader in four separate years.

Analysts have acknowledged that what Eaton lacked in experience, he made up for in work ethic. He has since had his number retired by Utah.

1984 – The Year of the Jazz

Karl Malone

In the George Orwell book, 1984, the world of the future (at least, the future as envisioned by Orwell when he wrote the book in 1948) would be a controlled, dystopian society, in which free will had gone the way of the dodo bird.

However, for the Utah Jazz, 1984 was the year that good things began to happen. The Jazz made it to the playoffs for the first time, ever. Also, they grabbed a draft pick out of Gonzaga that would turn out to be one of the team’s most brilliant hire.

The Stockton-Malone Jazz Duo

Guard John Stockton knew that he had been hyped up before the draft, and that coming into the league meant facing a lot of big expectations. He did express some nervousness before the season started but soon proved himself to be solid gold.

Stockton was an All-Star ten times, and took the Jazz to the playoffs in every one of his 19 years with the team.

In the following year’s draft, the Jazz scored Karl Malone, who would become one of basketball’s all-time great players.

The Jazz were suddenly, firmly, established in the NBA league as contenders.

Jerry Sloane

If you look at the manager/coach rosters of any major league ball club, be it the NBA, the NFL, the MLB and beyond, you will see remarkable rates of turnover. Some coaches only last a season, and some might only last weeks as the head of the team, before being shoved out of the door in favor of another player of the month.

In short, longevity at the head of a high-pressure, high-stakes team is hard to find.

Jerry Sloane, who, as we mentioned above, was in the driver’s seat for the Jazz for nearly two dozen years, flips the short-timer custom on its head.

Before Sloane coached the Jazz, however, he played a decade for the Chicago Bulls, scoring a staggering 10,000 points for the team.

As the coach of the Jazz, Sloane took the team to 16 consecutive winning seasons. In 2006 he hit his 1000th career victory, one of only a handful of NBA coaches to do so, and the first-ever to achieve all of them with the same team.

In Closing

The Jazz are old enough now to have been through everything a big-league team can experience: seasons of embarrassment that are soon forgotten during a winning streak.

Superstar players that blaze like a star through the night sky, enchanting all who look upon them. And change; always there is change. The important thing is that every word ever written about a team becomes irrelevant, once the new season starts, and brings with it the limitless potential of the human spirit.

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