The Utah Jazz, NBA Super Villain or Super Misunderstood


Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz against the Portland Trail Blazers on October 7, 2018 at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon (Image Via Wiki Commons)

By Frank Adler, Sports Writer


Over the last couple of weeks a shocking amount of disrespect has been leveled at the Utah Jazz’ top players, organization and even the city of Salt Lake itself. Comments have come from former players like Shaquille O’Neal, current players like LeBron James and sports media personalities like Nick Wright. With the unexpected success the Jazz have enjoyed over the first half of the season, doubters would be sure to arise, however, the comments made toward the Jazz have not been cogent points about flaws in their performance, but personal digs at the players and organization.

The Jazz have fostered quite a bit of attention in the early stages of the 2021 NBA season. The Jazz jumped out to the league’s leading record, going on an impressive stretch where they won 20 out of 21 games. The Jazz’s success is not due to the flashy individual play of one superstar, but a smart offensive system focused on making the extra pass to set up open shots for a deep rotation of excellent shooters. The Jazz have seven players shooting over 38% from deep on their roster, and their shooting acumen has drawn statistical comparisons to the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors. The team’s three-point attempts per game are also similar to the Warriors, but their play style is much more reminiscent of the prime Spurs’ teams, and this creates a problem for the NBA. Not only are the Jazz a small-market team, which instantly makes them less desirable to be a champion, but they don’t play flashy or individual-centric basketball. They play winning basketball. It’s an incredibly exciting style for Jazz fans and hardcore basketball fans, but the casual NBA viewers that the marketing team focuses on don’t get excited by the Utah Jazz. 

Utah’s style of play and small-market background leads to very few nationally broadcast games and a lack of NBA marketing. Additionally the Jazz became a much easier target to pick on the day the sports world stopped. Jazz center Rudy Gobert was one of the first big name celebrities to contract COVID-19. Gobert was careless and, while feeling effects of an unknown illness, mocked the possibility of a positive test. He touched multiple microphones and was inconsiderate in the locker room. When he eventually did test positive for COVID-19, these actions went from embarrassing to inexcusable. Gobert’s insensitivity even caused a rift between him and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell that some claimed was irreparable. Gobert has gone above and beyond in making up for his actions. He was privately and publicly contrite, and his sincerity has convinced Mitchell and the rest of his teammates to forgive him. They are now one of the most functional locker rooms in the league, evidenced by their unselfish style of basketball and camaraderie. Gobert also donated 500,000 dollars to help fight the virus and has been involved in numerous other charitable missions. 

Shaq, a hall-of-fame player and professional personality, has never given Gobert respect, but his comments about Mitchell are what ignited a wave of animosity towards the Jazz. That being said, Shaq’s comments were perhaps the most reasonable of the many hot takes that followed. Shaq commented, during the popular TNT pregame report, that Mitchell was not a superstar. Shaq claimed that Mitchell was not a superstar because he could only score. While Mitchell’s multiple double-digit assist games would fly in the face of this claim, at least Shaq had a somewhat reasonable point. The Jazz kept winning and Mitchell kept playing great so Shaq changed the narrative to the idea that he was only trying to motivate the young Jazz star. Few believed him, and it’s debatable whether Shaq even believed himself, but his likable presence and good hearted nature kept the majority of Jazz fans from feeling any real anger towards the lovable big man.

The lovability and good hearted criticisms ended during the All-Star draft. LeBron and Kevin Durant were captains and, inexplicably, the two Jazz stars were the last two picks of the entire draft. To add insult to injury, LeBron said that no one ever plays as the Jazz on NBA2k and held an air of superiority and disrespect toward the Jazz throughout the draft. LeBron even said that he needed size on his team right before taking the smaller Domantas Sabonis over Gobert. The Jazz bashing from LeBron essentially gave the green light to LeBron’s henchman, Wright, a hot takes specialist from Fox Sports, to deliver his thoughts on the Jazz and Utah. Wright spent a three-minute-segment giggling and laughing at not only the Jazz, calling them overrated and not a real contender, but also inexplicably making fun of Salt Lake City. While Wright has time and time again proved to be a common charlatan, his comments rightfully incensed many of the Jazz faithful. 

Bottom line, the Jazz do not deserve the hate. Why? Based on repeated actions and how each individual player is a standup individual. Mike Conley and Mitchell have both been standout citizens in their respective communities. Joe Ingles has an excellent sense of humor and also contributes to a number of different charitable funds. Then there’s Gobert, the most controversial of the Jazz players. While some of the criticism leveled at Gobert is understandable, at this point, Gobert has more than made up for his mistakes last March. Gobert has been miscast as an NBA villain when at his heart, he is a truly good guy. FlightReacts, a youtube content creator and basketball enthusiast, has been making fun of Rudy Gobert, calling him “Go-burt” for his entire career. Flight has made a living out of making fun of NBA players and last week on Flight’s twitch stream, Gobert donated 150 subscriptions to Flight, who has been mercilessly mocking him his entire career. This is a microcosm for who Gobert really is as a person. He’s light hearted, doesn’t take things too seriously and is a good guy trying to make the most of his situation. These attributes should be lauded, not put down, and overall, the Jazz should be a team to root for during the 2021 season and beyond.


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