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Intro to Jazz: Utah Jazz History, How to Catch a Game and More

By Brian Higgins
October 25, 2023

Did you know Utah is one of only three states with just one major professional sports team? (Four if you count New Jersey, but we think a certain football stadium in “New York” begs to differ.)  Despite great college and minor league teams and even pro rugby and soccer squads, the Utah Jazz are still the state’s only representation in the major four American sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA). 

Is that why the Jazz mean so much to so many folks in our fair state? Or is it because of the tradition of excellence and the legendary players who have been a part of the program? Maybe it’s the many so-close-and-yet-so-far moments that keep fans believing that this is the year. 

Picking the number one reason to love the Jazz is like picking a favorite Utah national park or ski mountain — impossible. Rooting for the Jazz is like getting drive-thru soda or taking a picture under the Delicate Arch — a legal requirement for state citizenship. And the Jazz themselves are like the mountains, canyons and towering rock formations in our state — enduring and beloved no matter what shape they take.

Jazz FAQs

Why are the Utah Jazz called the Jazz?

As you may have already guessed, the Jazz name did not originate in Utah. Although there’s great jazz in Utah (among lots of other amazing performing arts), our state is described as “majestic,” “awe-inspiring” and “stunning” much more often than it’s described as “jazzy.” 

The team moved from jazzy New Orleans in 1979 and the name came with it. 

Why have the Jazz never changed their name? Well, it’s iconic and a lot of fun. Jazz mega-fan John Cleese once called it “the silliest name in sport” in a good way, and who are we to argue with the Minister of Silly Walks. 

Some folks are still baffled, and have even proposed a three-way trade in which the New Orleans Pelicans get their name back, Utah gets the (very fitting) Toronto Raptors’ name and Toronto becomes … something else. But, in a land of snow capped mountains and stunning red-rock desert, we think this charming idiosyncracy is right at home.

Where do the Utah Jazz play? 

The Jazz play in downtown Salt Lake City at the Delta Center. And don’t call it the EnergySolutions Arena or the Vivint Arena. As it was in the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz’s home stadium is once more known as the Delta Center. Of course, plenty of folks never stopped calling it the Delta Center, which is probably why it meant so much to fans to see the moniker return.

When do the Utah Jazz play?

The Jazz play from late October to mid-April (and hopefully beyond). The Jazz, like every NBA team, alternate between home and away games, usually two or three at a time with some longer road trips and homestands mixed in. If you’re trying to plan a ski and city trip just take a look at the Utah Jazz schedule — there are lots of dates where you’re likely to catch both big plays and powder days. And when the Jazz are out of town, you can still see world class concerts and entertainment at the Delta Center.

How much are Utah Jazz tickets?

Jazz tickets are actually surprisingly affordable! It’s far from unheard of to get in the building for less than $30 a pop. Of course, the cheap seats may be at a higher elevation than the local ski slopes and ticket prices surge when a megastar comes to town, but if you want to be a part of an electric fan atmosphere, the price of entry won’t cost you much.

Who owns the Utah Jazz?

In 2020, Qualtrix co-founder and BYU billionaire Ryan Smith purchased a majority stake in the Jazz from the Larry H. Miller Company. NBA legend Dwyane Wade is a minority owner in the team, too, and spends plenty of time courtside upping the team’s cool factor.

Where can I find Utah Jazz news? 

If you want to stay up to date on all things Jazz, there are a couple of great local news outlets that cover the team, like Deseret News and KSL.com Sports.

Where can I buy Jazz gear?

You can find Jazz gear from the team store on its website or at the Delta Center. But Salt Lake is a basketball town, and you can find Jazz gear in some surprising places. (Would you believe us if we said grocery store?) You can also check out KSL Classifieds to find some retro and gently used gear before your next game.

Who’s on the Utah Jazz roster? 

As of the start of the 2023 season, the Jazz are still firmly entrenched in “rebuild” mode, with a rotating cast of veterans, rookies and young players. After getting a haul of draft picks for franchise stars Donovan “Spida” Mitchell and Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert, Utah is looking to the future. The early returns are good, with Lauri “The Finnisher” Markkanen repping Utah in the 2023 NBA All-Star Game, and Blocker, we mean Walker Kessler earning first-team All-Rookie honors.

In the first year of their rebuild, the Jazz proved more fun than expected. With upset wins, breakout stars, role players eager to prove themselves and a fan base that never says “tank,” the atmosphere is as fun as ever in the Delta Center. Grab a ticket and see what all the fuss is about. After all, converting someone to Jazz fandom is the same in sports as it is in music — you’ve gotta see it live.

Utah Jazz History

Duke Ellington and Count Basie are all well and good, but we prefer names like Pistol Pete, The Mailman and Dr. Dunkenstein. If you’re looking to brush up on your Jazz history before a game, here’s a brief overview. 

The Early Days

The team was founded in 1974 in New Orleans, where they played their first five seasons. The Jazz faced a variety of problems in those early years, like competing with the NFL’s more popular Saints and playing on a court that was so high off the ground they had to install nets.

Ultimately, team owner Sam Battistone pulled a reverse Brigham Young and declared “This Must Not Be The Place.” He decided to move the team to more profitable pastures and ultimately chose small market Salt Lake City. Salt Lake had recently been home to the American Basketball Association’s Utah Stars, which had been immensely popular during their stint from 1970-1976. Battistone took that as a good sign that Salt Lake was a real basketball town. 

He would be proven right eventually, but it was tough sledding in those early days. From 1979-1983, the Utah Jazz went 107-221, and even played some home games in Las Vegas from 1983-1984 to bring in extra money and fans. 

Ironically, there was historically good sledding elsewhere in Utah, with a record snowfall in 1983 that wouldn’t be broken for 40 years. Maybe it was the cleansing snowmelt that year that finally turned things around, washing away the Jazz’s troubles as it flowed down a barricaded State Street. Or maybe it was a kid from Gonzaga named John Stockton.

The Stockton and Malone Era

In 1984, one year before drafting John Stockton and two years before selecting Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz made their first playoff appearance in franchise history. They wouldn’t miss the playoffs again for 20 years. And while there was an incredible cast of characters during that legendary run both on and off the court (more on them later), both Stockton and Malone created magic on the boards that few others have been able to replicate. There’s a reason “Stockton to Malone!” is still a rallying cry for fans 20+ years later.

Known as “The Mailman” because he always delivered, Karl Malone is number three on the NBA’s all-time scoring list as of 2023, with 38,652 points. That position doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. The only active players behind him in the top 30 are Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, so unless you get bonus points for the number of times you’ve changed teams, the Mailman’s position looks secure for a long, long time.

Malone scored 2,000 points or more in 12 different seasons, including a mind-blowing 11 in a row. He was a 14-time All Star, a two-time MVP, an 11-time All-NBA first-team winner and a three-time NBA All-Defensive first-team winner. Oh, and he won two Olympic Gold Medals as part of the famous “Dream Team.”

But Malone didn’t do all that scoring by himself. The man on the other side of this terrifying tandem knew a thing or two about setting his teammates up for success. As of 2023, John Stockton is the all-time NBA leader in both steals and assists. The closest active player, Chris Paul, is 721 steals and 4,300 assists behind Stockton. At 38 years old, Paul would likely need another 7-9 seasons with the Pelicans Clippers Rockets Thunder Suns Warriors to reach that mark. Even Jake from State Farm can’t insure that. 

Stockon lead the league in assists in a whopping nine consecutive seasons. He was also the NBA steals leader twice, a 10-time All Star and a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist along with Malone. But perhaps his most impressive accomplishment was his reliability. Stockton played all 82 regular season games in 17 of his 19 seasons, all with the Utah Jazz. That’s right, to John Stockton “load management” just meant sorting the laundry.

Both Stockton and Malone were ironmen, ranking fifth and sixth respectively in all-time games played. And apart from 42 played games with the L.A. Lakers in the final year of Malone’s career, they were all with the Jazz. That legacy of loyalty is part of why Jazz fans are quick to poke fun at the team-hopping stars of today. Of course, fans of other teams can just point to their ring fingers and shut Jazz fans up in a flash.

Stockton and Malone never reached the mountaintop that adorned their purple mountain-majestic jerseys. Although they reached the Western Conference Finals five times and the NBA finals in two consecutive seasons (1997 and 1998) they ran into Michael Jordan’s Bulls during both finals trips and the magic ran out. The second of those two trips has been well documented in a certain documentary that only served to reopen old wounds, but ask a Jazz fan and they’ll tell you all you need to know about those 1998 NBA Finals — Jordan pushed off.

The Post-Malone (and Stockton) Era

In 2004, the first year without Stockton or Malone, the Jazz missed the playoffs for the first time since 1984, ending the third longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances in NBA history. But when they did make it back, in 2007, they didn’t just pat themselves on the back just for being there. Nope, the Jazz stormed their way to the Western Conference Finals, led by homegrown draft pick Deron Williams, free agent Carlos Boozer and Russian big man Andrei Kirilenko. Unfortunately, the Jazz have a habit of running into all-time great teams in the playoffs, and Tim Duncan’s Spurs dispatched them in five games.

The Jazz failed to advance past the semi-final round again with that core group, and after a first-round sweep by the Lakers in 2012, wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 2017, when they ran into Steph Curry’s Warriors. Man, they gotta stop doing that.

Although Gordon Hayward, the star of that 2017 team, would depart in free agency after the season, he immediately passed the mantle to the next Jazz star. In 2017, the Jazz drafted Donovan Mitchell, who didn’t do much except set all kinds of NBA rookie records and lead the Jazz back to the semi-finals. It was also the year that 7’1” center Rudy Gobert won his first of three Defensive Player of the Year awards. With those two paving the way, the Jazz were primed for years of sustained playoff success. Stop us if you’ve heard this before.

Despite some epic playoff performances by Mitchell (including multiple 50+ point games in the 2020 series against the Nuggets) and a loveable cast of characters including veteran Mike Conley, fan favorite Joe Ingles and the Filipino Flame Thrower Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz never advanced past the semi-final round during the next five years.

Mitchell to Gobert was never quite Stockton to Malone, and the stars parted way with both each other and the team in 2022. The Jazz are currently in rebuild mode, with Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler primed as the next great Jazz duo. Will they finally be the ones to take the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Salt Lake? We’re not sure, but just like Charlie Brown is going to keep kicking that football, the Jazz and their fans are going to keep hoping.

Utah Jazz Legends

Whether their numbers are hanging in the rafters at the Delta Center or just the rafters of our hearts, these are just a few of the most famous players in Utah Jazz history.

Pistol Pete Maravich: 1974-1979

Pistol Pete might not necessarily be a Utah Jazz legend since he only played 17 games in Utah due to knee issues. But Maravich was the early face of the franchise, and played some of the best ball of his Hall of Fame career in a Jazz jersey, including a 68-point game in 1977 that was the highest by a guard in NBA history at the time. The Pistol is Jazz royalty. 

Adrian Dantley: 1979-1986

Adrian Dantley isn’t impressed by the Dream Team’s gold medals — he won one before ever stepping foot on an NBA court, leading Team USA in scoring in the 1976 Games before becoming the Jazz’s first bonafide All Star in 1980.

Mark Eaton: 1982-1993

Fourth on the NBA’s all-time block list and first in blocks per game, Eaton had a long career worth of defensive highlights (look up his standing block). The big man also holds the record for most blocks in a season at 456 (!), a number no one’s come within even a hundred of in the 21st century. 

Darrell Griffith: 1980-1991

“The Mailman” is a cool nickname, but it’s got nothing on Darrell Griffith’s “Dr. Dunkenstein.” A key part of the Jazz’s first few playoff runs along with Dantley and Eaton, Griffith not only set the NBA record for three-pointers two years in a row (1984 and 1985) but also competed in the Slam Dunk Contest those same years. 

Larry H. Miller: 1985-2009

We’re willing to bet Larry had a mean hook shot, but the former Jazz owner is more beloved for buying the team outright in 1986 to keep them in Utah than his skills on the court. Although the Larry H. Miller Company sold the team in 2020, they still own the state’s minor league baseball team, the Salt Lake Bees. 

Jerry Sloan: 1988-2011

If you’re wondering where the culture of loyalty came from during the Stockton and Malone era, look no further than Jerry Sloan, the man behind it all. Sloan is fourth in all-time coaching wins, and is one of only two coaches with over 1,000 wins with a single team. His number of career wins (1,123) hangs in the rafters at the Delta Center. 

Jeff Hornacek: 1994-2000

Call him a third option, but don’t call him a third wheel. Without Hornacek’s prolific three-point scoring, the Jazz would never have reached their two consecutive finals in 1997 and 1998.

Carlos Boozer: 2004-2010

Jazz fans were looking for excitement in the post Stockton and Malone era, and Boozer brought it. Arguably the biggest free agent signing in team history, Boozer helped lead the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals in 2007. He’s also the answer to a depressing Jazz trivia question. Who was most recent Jazz player to score a regular season triple-double? Boozer, in 2008

Deron Williams: 2005-2011

Selected as the 3rd overall pick in 2005, Williams knew there were big shoes to fill at the point guard position in Utah. The lights weren’t too bright and the shoes weren’t too big, and Williams earned All-Rookie first-team honors that year. In a few years, he would be a key part of bringing the Jazz back to the Western Conference Finals. 

Rudy Gobert: 2013-2022

The Frenchman is gone but not forgotten (since the Jazz still play him four times a year). Proud owner of three Defensive Player of the Year awards and one of the coolest nicknames in team history, The Stifle Tower will always be known as one of the best rim protectors in team history and Swat Lake City will never be quite the same. 

Donovan Mitchell: 2017-2022

Spida never took the Jazz all the way, but the perennial all-star was forever tied to Salt Lake City from the day he donned (get it?) the uniform. In his rookie year, he passed Karl Malone for most 20+ point games as a Jazz rookie, set an NBA rookie record for most three-pointers in a season and even won the Slam Dunk Contest. He would repeat that magic nearly every year with the Jazz. This is one spider you hate to see leave.