15 February 2011
My “Twelve Step Process” As A Grieving Jazz Fan
I hardly know where to begin. Trying to distance myself from the noise, I’ve come to terms with this past week’s transactions. It wasn’t easy. But I was somewhat prepared for this shakeup, thanks in large part to another team I support, Liverpool FC.
Yep. Football (as I choose to call it).
Now, before you click the “X” on your browser, hear me out. What transpired across the pond in England enabled me to see a bigger picture. For those still coping with last Thursday’s atomic bomb on Salt Lake City: Take comfort.
A club in total turmoil, Liverpool FC was a once proud, elite entity in world football. For those not familiar with the world’s game, we’re talking the Boston Celtics of the English Premier League. History, trophies, legends. It gets no bigger (Lakers/Manchester United fans, take offense).
A recent slip from success propelled ‘Pool into a dizzying tailspin. American owners saddled the club with debt, ran off key players as well as an idolized manager, Rafa Benitez, this past summer. Employing a questionable replacement for Benitez in the form of Roy Hodgson made matters worse. When Hodgson and his new ways failed to yield results, total chaos reigned. On the pitch, off the pitch, among the supporters.
This fall, the drama came to a head. The unpopular owners were ousted. A new regime, Fenway Sports Group (led by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry), stepped in to start anew. Next to go? Roy Hodgson. Replacing Hodgson was a Liverpool legend in Kenny Dalglish. Things felt right again. The club was on the mend and results were being achieved once more on and off the field.
My sanity, as an LFC supporter, was again restored. Until 3 days prior to the transfer window (similar to our league’s yearly trade deadline).
Fernando Torres, arguably the world’s greatest striker, demanded to be sold to rival club Chelsea. Initially, his request was rejected. Once the club realized his stay would be untenable, reality settled in. Torres would need to be sold.
Unbelievable. Now transfers and player purchases/trades work a little differently over there. Players can be sold for cash. And while Torres’ stock was high (sold for roughly an $80m transfer fee), his choice to wait until three days prior to the deadline crippled Liverpool. They were left with little time to find replacements for a world class striker. Hardly the Torres we’d come to know and love over the years.
The fan base was in shock over the news. Torres had pledged his allegiance to the club he’d spent over three years at earlier this season, even draping a Liverpool scarf on the World Cup trophy his Spanish squad had won the past summer. More disheartening was hearing his desire to leave the historic club to run to Chelsea, a loathed rival.
My mind couldn’t compute. Why would he want to leave? Especially now, considering things had changed so dramatically. Dalglish and FSG were producing wins and smart moves. Why would you turn your back on a club that could achieve so much, simply to join an aging club of stars with a questionable future?
My “twelve step” process had begun. Shock had settled in and I now empathized with Nuggets’ fans who watched Melo pull basically the same stunt (even if he wasn’t as forthright with his desires). I hated Fernando Torres. I sat in shock as I watched him hold up the blue jersey he had traded in exchange for his recognizable red one.
As I went through the gamut of emotions from shock to anger, anger to disbelief, disbelief to sadness and sadness to understanding, I was soaking up fan reaction to the news on Twitter. Seemed I wasn’t alone. The news rocked the Liverpool fans’ collective world. Some were livid, some were shaken. All had something to say.
And it was one tweet in particular that came in response to the news that Torres shirt burnings were occurring which brought perspective to the madness I was feeling. While not word for word, the tweet called out the “idiots” who were burning the Torres’ #9 jersey.
Paraphrasing: Idiots burning their Torres shirts, do you not realize you are also disgracing the Liverpool crest with fire? You should be ashamed. It’s never about the name on the back. It’s about the name on the front. No one name is bigger than the name of Liverpool FC.
It suddenly became clear. Liverpool is a world class organization with history and a tradition of winning. While it hurts to watch a fan favorite and great talent turn his back on the club, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. And while I was a huge, HUGE fan of the player they call El Niño, my loyalty lies with the club, not a player. I was able to find closure on the matter by realizing that simple fact. I’d like to add that the underdog, Liverpool, proceeded to beat Chelsea and new boy Fernando Torres only 5 days later at Stamford Bridge, bringing additional closure and happiness to my life.
We all know what happened over the past few days here in Utah. I’ve spent so much time trying to distance myself from it because it IS saddening. The finger pointing. The blame game. Fans arguing and taking sides. Disarray. I can’t stomach it.
It’s all too similar to the confusion and shock I felt only days ago with the Torres saga. And while Jerry Sloan’s departure is a completely different set of circumstances and carries additional built-in side stories, the general message remains the same.
No one name is bigger than the club.
My allegiance is with the Utah Jazz. Please don’t take that statement in a “I’m fine with Jerry leaving/drink the Jazz front office kool-aid” way. I’m bothered to see Jerry go out the way he did. I’m not ashamed to admit to watery eyes upon hearing the news. But while I may not always agree with moves made, players played or traded, results achieved or avenues taken, my main hope is to see the Jazz win. They weren’t.
Change was necessary and Jerry, ever the visionary, saw this. Whether the team had stopped responding to Sloan’s coaching or coach had lost his fire, passion and energy was irrelevant at this point. In fact, both sides of that story probably have some truth to it. But the fact remained that stagnation had set in. Coach Sloan removed himself from the equation, forced or not. No longer would he debate whether or not HE was the roadblock. He made an ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of the team, allowing them to move on. Always gracious in victory, Jerry this time was even more gracious in defeat.
Jerry Sloan’s legacy to not only Utah, but to the game of basketball, was his desire to compete. His entire career was devoted to the game and his drive to win. Over 23 years with the Jazz organization was his masterpiece. It was never about himself. It was never about accolades or records. It was the love seeing a competitive product challenge itself to the fullest, not just during games, but at practice, in the offseason and off the court. A labor of love. A magnum opus of perseverance. That’s what truly makes Coach Sloan one of the all time greats.
Surely, everything Coach Sloan (and Phil Johnson, too) worked so hard to establish, should not be cast aside in bitterness. It’s a disservice to his body of work. It’s not what he would want. His final press conference in which he resigned as head coach was Jerry at his finest. Gracious, thankful and calm. As I watched, drained from the whirlwind of emotion, I wondered how I could possibly continue to back an organization that would let such a man walk away, having never achieved some of the highest accomplishments in basketball. I was bitter. Frustrated. Disheartened.
Everything Jerry wasn’t.
As mentioned, Jerry’s contributions to this franchise will forever be appreciated and marveled. As my loyalty to an organization was in question, I thought, “How could I possibly turn my back on the years of blood, sweat and tears that this man put into building this legacy? How would he feel to know that my loyalty to him would steer me away from the work his hands had built?” It was then I realized that resentment is not what Jerry would want to see from me. Seeing a fan base turn on his life’s work would be counterproductive to everything he stands for.
The highest respect I can possibly pay to Coach Sloan is to continue my support for the organization he laid the foundation for. Jerry wouldn’t want us to be bitter. He’d want us to support this team. And the best way to support them is to get behind them. Regardless of which story you side with, what can’t happen is the infighting and divisions that are happening right now. National and local media have divided Jazz fans, pitting them against each other and all factions of the Jazz organization. It’s understandable. We’re shaken. Death, taxes, the sun rising and setting and Jerry Sloan. Their constants in our world.
Now, one has ceased in its role of stability (hint, it rhymes with Jerry Sloan). A new era is upon us. It’s easy to get down about Jerry’s exit. But something tells me Jerry would echo the sentiments of Liverpool supporters everywhere: It’s not about the name on the back of the jersey. It’s about the name on the front.
If you allow yourself, it’s a wonderful time to get excited about a great new coach named Tyrone Corbin. He, and HIS team, need your support more than ever. Jazz fans unite.
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