Monday, March 31, 2008

In the Beginning

It’s early September 1979, my best friend Nathan and I climbed into our brown ’72 Pontiac Le Mans, chauffeured by my Dad, and proceeded to take the 20-minute drive to Ogden’s Dee Event Center. Most likely the windows were rolled down because my Dad didn’t believe in AC, and the radio was tuned to some static-filled AM news station if he had his say. If I was the DJ, I am sure we were listening to Rock 99.5 or 103.5 hoping to catch the latest Styx block-party. Life couldn’t have been better because in a few months I would finally turn 16, would finally get my drivers license and finally (and most importantly) the girls would come in droves (or so I thought, because Le Mans means “chick magnet” in French). To top things off, we were headed to the very first Jazz game ever played in Utah.

For months I had read with much excitement of how the troubled New Orleans Jazz wanted to leave their past behind and head for some clean-livin’ in Utah. The differences were striking, for in Salt Lake you might have strangers ‘bear testimony’ to you, while on Bourbon Street strangers might bear something of a slightly different nature. Visions of Pistol Pete dribbling, spinning, shucking and jiving danced in my head. With 3 channels of splendid orange-tinted semi-Technicolor and no ESPN on our Magnavox console, the chances of seeing much NBA action in those days were fairly limited. Until then, the closest thing to getting my NBA fix live was the annual Harlem Globetrotters smack down of the Washington Generals. After seeing their shtick over and over it would take years before I would realize the old ‘throw the bucket of water’ gag was not a routine, or necessary, part of an NBA game.

The move was approved and the Jazz moved to Utah. The NBA was finally here! Jabbar, Magic, Bird, the Iceman, Chocolate Thunder. It was a league of extraordinary superheroes with extraordinary superpowers doled out in 48-minute increments. Dr. J, are you kidding me? He was the subject of my ninth grade Engllish essay and to watch him dunk would be like watching Superman fly.

That first pre-season game was against George McGinnis and the Denver Nuggets and being a 15-year old connoisseur of autographs, I wanted to add McGinnis to my sizeable collection of signatures. Sizeable meaning two: Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon and L.A. Ram Merlin Olsen. We arrived early and maneuvered our way down near the player’s tunnel to get closer. Finally we got our chance and excitedly shoved a paper and pen in McGinnis’ face and he happily scribbled out his name. We did it! We had documented signed proof that we annoyed someone famous and couldn’t have been happier.

Later on as we puzzled over the scribbled name, the “G” began to look more like an “O” and the “M” sort of resembled a “B”. Having read about McGinnis more than seeing him play we began to wonder if we had the right man. It finally dawned on us that it wasn’t the 6-time all-star McGinnis’ signature we had possession of and after much forensic work we found out we were proud owners of an Odell Ball autograph. Odell Ball, a graduate of Marquette was recently voted the 75th best player to come out of that program. He was a 6th round pick who ended up not making the team which explained why he seemed much happier to sign his autograph than we were to obtain it.

Time flies and ‘like sands through the hourglass’ the Jazz have played something like 2366 regular season games since and scores of playoff games. I recently was able to return the favor and take my Dad, now 80, to his first Jazz game since the Jordan administration. We didn’t try for any autographs (thanks again you Nazi-like ushers!) but we had a good time anyway. Somewhere in a box buried in the basement under my high-school diploma sits my prized and dusty collection. A Globetrotter, A Ram and Odell Ball.

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