The NBA playoffs will be headed back to Salt Lake City again, and once again we find ourselves scrutinizing one of the most passionate fan bases in not just the NBA, but in all of sports. A fan base that has been on the roller-coaster of all sports roller-coasters since April of 2017. A fan base, that is as loyal as it is passionate and the envy of the league with how loud it can get. But also, a fan base which is equally reviled for its antics, and racists actions.
I have been a Jazz fan since at least 1986. I was just a small child but I fondly remember going to the games and watching Ricky Green and Adrian Dantley. My childhood growing up in Salt Lake City was dominated by the Jazz and the NBA. Growing up all my friends and I wanted to be Jordan, Olajuwon or Stockton and Malone. My first fight I remember as a kid was because my friend said Andy Toolson was a better point guard than Delaney Rudd. As I hit my early teen years the Jazz seen unprecedented team success with their two NBA finals runs. My early college years was watching the team rebuild, and as I became an adult I watched the Jazz make new inroads in the NBA with Boozer and D-will. Now firmly an adult with a career and family, I am treated to nostalgia as I watch this new Jazz team kindle old memories of a bygone Jazz era. As I have grown, I have grown with the Utah Jazz.
Yet, despite all these great memories I have some dark ones which cloud my happy times. Like the time I seen several men accost another young man who they accused of being underage and drinking, and instead of waiting for security took it upon themselves to beat him up. He was 21, and was detained by Salt Lake City police while his attackers were free to go. Or during the 2007 Western finals when during a timeout event of a blowout game 4, the Jazz entertainment crew was tossing basketballs into the crowed, one was caught by a US Marine, in full dress blues who had presented the flag during the pregame, was attacked by some Jazz fans.
Jazz fans are passionate, but they are rowdy and crude and vile as well. Unlike other fan bases such as the NFLs Buffalo Bills, who are famous for their rowdiness, the Jazz fans for the most part cannot blame the excess use of alcohol for their actions. Jazz fans drink, and boy do they drink, but of the hundreds of altercations I have witnessed over the years, few of these people had alcohol. In fact, the Jazz security force are so forcefully enacting the alcohol laws that they often overlook the other issues which are now raising their ugly head.
Most games are fun and uneventful save for what happens on the court, and of the well over 700 games I have been to, I can maybe think of about 50 where there where real issues. But I am just one guy, in one section. We are talking about an arena that seats nearly 20,000 people.
When former Warriors guard Stephen Jackson said that Jazz fans make Utah one of the worst places to visit in the league, he was not talking just about himself. Many NBA players, both past and present have had similar gripes about Salt Lake City. Jackson, yes was a headcase in his NBA years, famously charging into the stands after Ron Artest during the Malice at the Palace. But at the same time, what some Jazz fans said to him was equally revolting. I had 15th row tickets during game 2 of that series, I was behind the Warriors bench and I could clearly hear someone yelling racists language at him. Security tried their best, and would have easily found him had the Jazz fans around him not found that kind of language acceptable and pointed the guy out.
I have heard fans berate and insult fans of other teams to the point that physical altercations break out. I myself have been a victim of this kind of fan hooliganism. Several years ago, myself and two friends and staffers for a Dallas Mavericks site where attending a game and these two young girls were berated with insults. When I became angry and said something back they got security, to which security did very little but give the two girls and another Mavericks fan a warning. Not me, not the guy shouting insults at them, the opposing fan. This just encouraged the behavior, and at the end of the night the guy dumped a popcorn buckets full of half drank soda and other discardables onto my friend. Security witnessed this, and did nothing. The event was stopped by a Salt Lake City police officer, and the only reason there was a police officer there was because we were in the lower bowl. Had this been the upper bowl, a fight would have ensued. To the Utah Jazz organizations credit, they did take action after the event.
The Jazz organization knows what is going on, and weather they are doing it on their own or are being pressured into it by the NBA, they have ramped up security and have hired some actual security personal, not 90 year old volunteers like what they had during most of the 1990s. But security often rushes to judgment and I have seen a number of occasions where they eject the opposing fan instead of the Jazz fan.
If you attended a game between 2004 and 2012 you definitely experienced the paper airplane phenomenon which plagued games, especially games vs bad teams which had JR. Jazz players there. Almost every game PA announcer Dan Roberts would have to make an announcement about the paper airplanes. The announcements were seen as a joke by the kids and their adult guardians and they would continue unabated. Finally, in about 2010 the Jazz started putting an emphasis on stopping this, yet it continues to this day.
Recently, we seen Russell Westbrook rail against Jazz fans. The fan who was recorded on TV in a verbal altercation with Westbrook has denied he said anything inappropriate. While the timing of his actions are suspect, his accusations are getting credence because everyone in the NBA knows how Jazz fans are. It is a long history of poor antics and inappropriate language which has made the national media jump to conclusion. It may not have happened on this time, but it has happened enough times that Jazz fans no longer get the benefit of the doubt.
Nobody is perfect, but Jazz fans feel that their actions are always justified because of some preconceived slight or prejudice. When its really not. People around the league dislike Jazz fans because a lot of Jazz fans do this stuff or at least condone it.
The racists language and poor actions of Jazz fans is what is really at issue here, not Jazz fans passion or love of the game. The Jazz fans being crazy passionate and loud is what makes the Jazz home court experience one of the best in the NBA. But we as fans have a responsibility to point out the idiots who are going to ruin the experience for everyone.