There’s quite a bit to Gordon Monson’s column revisiting of the end of the Jerry Sloan era in Utah, none more surprising than the claim from Jazz legend Karl Malone that Malone had to pay for a ticket from a scalper to watch the Jazz on Feb. 11 of last year (a day after Sloan retired) after the team told him they were out of ducats.
It’s been almost a year to the day that Jerry Sloan abruptly retired from the Utah Jazz in a move that absolutely nobody saw coming. Following an in-game and then postgame tiff with then-star guard Deron Williams, Sloan apparently felt unsupported by management, and quit despite the organization’s attempts to win him back. Just as abruptly, Malone flew to Utah to speak his piece with the media before the following game against the Suns, whereupon he was told that the game was sold out. Whereupon I tell the Jazz that I’ve seen countless local “celebrities” sneak onto or given good seats on press row, and then tell the Jazz to find Malone’s 6-9 frame a folding chair or two.
Monson, in a brief aside toward the beginning of a must-read piece, had this to say:
What happened to Sloan had festered inside Malone for long enough. In the immediate aftermath, he came to Utah to express concern, buying his own ticket to the next game at EnergySolutions Arena via a scalper because the Jazz had told him there were no tickets available for him, and spoke to reporters.
The turn in front of the reporters spoke to Malone’s distaste with how GM Kevin O’Connor handled Sloan’s frustrations following his back-and-forth with Williams and Sloan’s exit, as he told the media he would give the Jazz “a D or F, and I would lean more toward an F.”
He’s right and wrong. We’ll get to that aspect in a second.
First, the part where the Jazz are completely wrong? I don’t care how late Malone flies in. I don’t care if he’s there to stir things up that you want nothing to do with as you deal with the craziest three-day-span (Finals included) in team history, or if he finished his career with the Los Angeles Lakers some seven years earlier.
You find a guy a seat. You stick him near the bench. You offer a team investor the story of a lifetime in an otherwise miserable game and setting against the Phoenix Suns (the Jazz lost that night, badly), and wonder if he’ll move to the hallways where the GMs hang out. You find a luxury box, and bring him some tasty Mexi-spring rolls. Or, you do as dozens of teams have done for years, and work over press row a little bit, move things around, and find a seat for the anti-dignitary (of sorts) courtside.
He’ll get free box scores, an Internet connection, pretzels and pop. All the perks. Parking, too.
You figure something out, and quick, that doesn’t have Malone (assuming he’s telling the truth) relaying these embarrassing things a year later. Now, it’s more than feasible that the Jazz were able to scare up a ticket or two, that the seats weren’t to Malone’s liking, and that Karl decided to pay a stiffer fee to sit in a seat that wouldn’t stiffen his back. Through all of his strength on and off the court, Malone has always enjoyed playing the martyr to the press, and this could be another example of such.
It doesn’t mean that the Jazz couldn’t have avoided it, though. Assuming Malone’s story is spot on.
O’Connor, a year later, doesn’t like people like yours truly, Gordon Monson, or Karl Malone pretending as if they were in the meeting between Sloan and the Jazz GM following his fight with Deron Williams. But you don’t have to be in the meeting when you have second-tier unnamed sources describing exactly what you would think someone like Sloan would do in a situation that felt to him the absolute apex of his team undermining his ability to lead as he saw fit. Everyone can roll back on their ideals in a time of great storm and stress, as Sloan may have done, but it just isn’t Jerry Sloan’s style to take himself and his longtime lead assistant (Phil Johnson) away from his Jazz late at night following a game, with over two months left in a season.
And if we’re completely wrong in this, well, Sloan has earned that benefit of the doubt. Sloan and Johnson aren’t talking about it, either way. That’s where Karl is right or wrong. Sloan and his longtime aide-de-camp have made as much clear with their silence. They want nothing to do with talking about specific details behind an unfortunate divorce. I’m sure there are times where Sloan loves it when Karl stirs things up a bit, but I’m sure there are just as many times where he doesn’t want to be reminded of the whole affair.
As for the scalped ticket? Utah’s Energy Solutions Arena holds 19,911 people, and every seat was sold that night. Doesn’t matter. They could have found another, no matter how critical they knew Karl was going to be about Sloan and Utah’s separation.