Although the story of Jazz basketball is a tale of two cities--Salt Lake City and New Orleans--Charles Dickens did not have the Jazz in mind when he wrote of the best of times, the worst of times. But more than a century later he could have. After the move from New Orleans in 1979, the Utah Jazz spent six years living on the edge, a customary position when the club was in New Orleans, where the story begins.
In 1974 a nine-man group, mainly Californians, spent $6.15 million to form the expansion New Orleans Jazz, the eighteenth franchise in the National Basketball Association. The colors of the Mardi Gras--purple, green and gold--were chosen as the Jazz colors. State hero Pete Maravich, college basketball's all-time leading scorer at LSU, was acquired for a high price from Atlanta and the fledgling Jazz were ready for the inaugural season. The Jazz lost their first eleven games, and coach Scotty Robertson was fired four games later. The die had been cast.
The Jazz won only 23 games in 1974-75 seasons. In their five years in New Orleans, the Jazz never played .500 ball even though they did win 39 games in 1977-78. That was also the year Maravich wrecked his right knee, Louisiana businessman Andrew Martin sold his 20 percent of the club to the Californians, and the Jazz drafted Lucy Harris of Delta State, the first woman ever picked in the NBA draft. It was later revealed that Lucy Harris was pregnant, prompting quips the Jazz had actually drafted the rights to her firstborn.
The next season the Jazz won only 26 games, which included a 4-37 record; but even more crippling for the franchise was the mammoth rent. It was time to move, thought Sam Bettistone and Larry Hatfield of Santa Barbara, who were now the co-owners of the team. After a hasty demographic survey, Battistone announced the move of the team to Salt Lake City, a community which had sorrowfully witnessed the demise of the beloved American Basketball Association Utah Stars just five years before. The scars from the Stars, the speed of the move, the late arrival in June of management personnel and the lukewarm appraisal of the Jazz product resulted in a tepid Utah reception.
Not having the move from New Orleans approved until the 1979 NBA June meeting proved to be a big obstacle to the front office, most of whom had accompanied the club from Louisiana. They had only a few months to organize ticket sales, advertising, marketing, and broadcasting rights. They were in strange territory and spent too much time talking to people who had impressive titles on their business cards but who didn't make the final decisions. The newly arrived Jazz didn't know the Utah shakers and movers. The 1979 Jazz draft was a complete bust, with their first pick gone by opening day.
Deseret News publisher Wendell Ashton led the effort to sell season tickets and acquire corporate financial support, but both were very slow in developing. Many observers thought the Jazz were just stopping by (and later happenings added credence to that apprehension). Even though the Jazz sponsored a contest to pick a new nickname and team colors, the old ones were retained after the move from New Orleans. As incongruous as jazz and the Mardi Gras are in association with Utah, Battistone had made up his mind that the trappings would not change, explaining he wanted those who criticized the Jazz in New Orleans to be reminded it was the same franchise that had later earned success in Utah.
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