By: Jay Yeomans
Published: October 20, 2019
After playing its first five seasons in New Orleans, the Jazz franchise was moved to Salt Lake City before the start of the 1979 season. It wasn’t an easy transition for the organization, both on and off the floor, but slowly the Jazz were able to overcome some big obstacles to become part of the fabric of Utah.
While ownership had a huge part in the team taking a strong foothold in the Utah market, it was the success on the floor that ultimately made the difference for this now proud franchise.
Since moving to the great state of Utah 40 years ago, 250 players have suited up in at least one regular-season game. Many of those players would be nearly impossible to pick out of a lineup while others have become the face of a team, a city, and a basketball-crazy state.
Here is a look at the best-of-the-best of those players, the ones who made the biggest impact on the floor and made us proud to be Jazz fans.
Players who just missed the cut: Jeff Malone, Rickey Green, and Thurl Bailey.
Here is my 40th-anniversary team for the Utah Jazz.
Darrell Griffith, 1980-1991
The early days of the Jazz in Utah wouldn’t have been the same without Griffith and his explosive play. He played all 765 games of his NBA career in a Jazz uniform where he wowed the crowds with his high-flying dunks and his 3-point shooting marksmanship.
Gordon Hayward, 2011-2017
Still not a popular name to bring up with Jazz fans, Hayward was a home-grown talent who was supposed to be the lead dog on an up-and-coming team but traded that away for a chance to reunite with his college coach, Brad Stevens in Boston.
But before Jazz fans lost their love for the former Butler star, Hayward was a terrific all-around player who could help the team in just about every way possible.
Mark Eaton, 1982-1993
If this list came out just a year ago the starting spot would still be his. While he has been bumped to the bench one thing is still certain, no one will ever block shots for the Jazz like Mark Eaton.
Eaton was a great defensive rebounder and shot-blocking machine. It’s hard to fathom now, but he averaged more than four blocks a game for four straight seasons including a year where he swatted away 5.6 shots a night. That’s a paint presence Jazz fans will never forget.
Donovan Mitchell, 2017-current
Mitchell has only been in a Jazz uniform for two seasons but he has already left a legacy in Utah both on and off the floor.
The steal of the 2017 draft, Mitchell has been the go-to scorer who carries the clutch gene and a flair for the dramatic. He was the perfect replacement for the departing Hayward and will be the face of the team for years to come.
Mehmet Okur, 2004-2011
Memo joined the Jazz as a bit of a mystery and left as one of the most beloved big men the organization has ever had. His silky-smooth outside shot and his contagious smile were what set him apart along with his numerous clutch plays as a new-look group went all the way to the Western Conference finals.
Carlos Boozer, 2004-2010
Boozer spent six injury-riddled seasons with the Jazz but when he was on the floor, he was a force. He was a monster on the glass who could finish with either hand around the rim. He was the perfect back-to-the-basket option to compliment Okur’s sweet outside stroke.
Andrei Kirilenko, 2001-2011
AK was one of those special players who could really impact the game even when he wasn’t having a great shooting night. He was an elite weakside shot blocker who had great vision and knew how to hit the offensive glass. He never quite hit those lofty expectations heaped on his shoulders after he got that huge contract but he was a big piece to some great teams.
Paul Millsap, 2006-2013
Millsap was a fierce competitor who played many different roles during his seven seasons in Utah. He went from an energy guy off of the bench who attacked the offensive backboards and played tough defense to a key part of the offense who was tasked with getting big buckets.
No matter what role he played, Millsap did it with an effort level and intensity that made him a fan-favorite.
Deron Williams, 2005-2011
His career in a Jazz uniform didn’t start or end the way most of us would have hoped, but in between, he was a marvel with the ball who was one of the most skilled players the Jazz have ever had.
Williams had a ridiculous handle, great vision and a knack for getting buckets at the most important times. While his hall-of-fame potential never quite materialized after leaving Utah, he easily finds a spot on this team of Jazz legends.
Derrick Favors, 2011-2019
A mainstay for the Jazz over the last decade, Favors was a talented big man who could get it done on both ends of the floor. He was a really solid finisher in the paint, a quality rebounder, and a strong rim protector.
His quiet demeanor often let him fly under the radar with media and fans but his production always did the talking.
John Stockton, 1984-2003
What is there to say about one of the elite point guards in NBA history? Stockton was the ideal team-first player who worried about winning far more than anything else. He passed up shots to get others involved, set nasty screens to free up teammates for open looks and did all the dirty work that few all-stars are willing to do. And all with a tenaciousness that is hard to quantify.
Stockton did whatever it took to win, and he did it all at a level that few could ever repeat.
Jeff Hornacek, 1994-2000
It’s only a matter of time before Mitchell takes this spot but Hornacek was just too good to relinquish it so quickly.
Hornacek joined the Jazz thanks to a midseason trade with the Philadephia 76ers that turned a quality franchise into an instant contender. He was the missing piece, a secondary distributor who could shoot it from everywhere. A space creator who allowed Karl Malone more room to work and a knockdown shooter who made teams pay when the double-teams did come.
Adrian Dantley, 1979-1986
The well-traveled forward arrived in Utah after playing for three teams in three years and quickly became the go-to guy for the Jazz during their first seven years in Salt Lake.
Dantley was a remarkably efficient scorer who could get buckets on anyone. He was deadly in the midrange and a great back-to-the-basket creator who could draw fouls or finish in traffic.
All of those skills led to some crazy numbers including 29.6 points per game on 56.2 percent shooting from the floor. Numbers that not even Karl Malone could replicate.
Karl Malone, 1985-2003
14-time All-Star, 14-time All-NBA, two-time MVP and the second leading scorer in league history. The list of accomplishments is remarkable for the power forward out of Louisiana Tech who transformed himself from a good player into an all-time great thanks to an off-the-charts work ethic.
Malone was the perfect fit playing next to Stockton – an elite finisher who ran the floor in transition before delivering thunderous dunks that got him the nickname, the Mailman. He was also a great scorer in the half-court thanks to a great faceup game and the ability to score over, or through, anyone on the block.
Rudy Gobert, 2013-current
Gobert will never put up the shot-blocking numbers that Eaton did, but he has become such a force that he deserves the starting center spot.
Gobert is the best interior defender in the world today and an elite rim runner who finishes with force at the rim. He is also a beast on the backboards on both ends of the floor and a ridiculously efficient offensive player who just keeps getting better.