Up to their usual draft day antics, the Utah Jazz came up with another no-name this year. By now, David Stern, the NBA commissioner, must be getting used to this, announcing from New York, "In the 1989 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz select . . ." after which he looks at the piece of paper in front of him and sees the name of a person he's never heard of before.
Was that a here-these-guys-go-again smile on the commissioner's face last night - just before he said, " . . . Theodore `Blue' Edwards" - or what?The crowd in the Salt Palace, 5,000 strong and stuffed with dollar hot dogs, didn't know how to react. "Who is this dude?" was written all over their faces.
After a few seconds of mandatory confusion, they then did what came natural. They booed.
By now, it's traditional. You go to the Salt Palace on draft day, you get your hot dog and Coke, you watch the big screen TV and wait for the Jazz selection, you wrinkle your face into a look somewhere between bewilderment and consternation, you look around and realize that nobody else in the building knows who on earth this guy is either, and then you boo.
As history has shown, audience reaction has practically no bearing on whether the choice is a good one or a bad one.
The last Utah Jazz selection not booed immediately was Dominique Wilkins in 1982; but a couple of weeks later, when Wilkins was sold to Atlanta, the boos came. The only Utah Salt Palace first-round selection not ever greeted with more jeers than cheers was Darrell Griffith in 1980, although Eric Leckner last year came close.
At any rate, immediate public acceptance has obviously never been a big priority with the Jazz. In the Layden-era (Frank and Scott) they have turned no-name drafting into an art-form. Let's see, there was Danny Schayes in 1981 (still the alltime leader on the boo-meter). There was John Stockton in 1984 - a guard from Gonzaga who was such a well-guarded secret and little-known name that the crowd just kind of sat there. Or, as Frank Layden says in looking back, "They were stunned that day.
Totally stunned . . . and all John Stockton turns into is the best guard in the NBA."
There was Karl Malone in 1985 - from Louisiana Tech, of all places. There was Dell Curry from Virginia Tech in 1986, and Jose Ortiz from Oregon State in 1987. Guys with household names as long as you were in their houses.
Now, to this long list of anonymity, add the name of one Blue Edwards.
Whether he'll turn into a Stockton or a Malone, or a Griffith; or whether he'll turn into a Curry - and soon be out of here - remains to be seen.
But first, introductions are in order.
A few early facts on the newest Jazz first-rounder:
ROOTS: Blue Edwards is a Tarheel all right, born and raised in North Carolina, where the backboard-to-barn ratio is roughly 1:1. He's from Walstonburg, N. C., a rural community located about 150 miles equidistant from the famous basketball Tobacco Road country (to the west) and the equally famous basketball Michael Jordan country in Wilmington (to the south). Blue first went to a junior college near his home in Louisberg, after which he went to a four-year college near his home in Greenville called East Carolina.
THE NICKNAME: When he was a baby, he was choking on some food. His sister walked in, hollered "Mom, Theo's head's blue, come quick!" He's been "Blue" ever since.
THE SCANDAL: It's bound to come up sooner or later. So here goes: After Blue's junior season, his first year at East Carolina, he was arrested along with three other Pirate basketball players on larceny charges. The other three, as it came out in the courts, had stolen goods and harbored them in Blue's dorm room, where their secrets were safe with him - he was no thief, but he was no snitch, either. He pled quilty to a lesser offense and was given three year's probation, plus he had to contribute several hours of community service. Plus he had to sit out the next basketball season.
As it turned out, that was something of a blessing, since he grew from 6-3 to 6-5 during the suspension year, got a whole lot stronger - he worked out daily with the team - and also turned into a facsimile of an Eagle Scout. When he got back in the good graces of the basketball team this past season he made up for lost time, scoring 26.7 points per game and dominating the Colonial League and adding his name to an MVP list that includes David Robinson's from three year's back.
THE BACKBOARD: As proof of his increased strength from that forced redshirt year, this past season, in a dunking contest at Minges Coliseum (The Home of the Pirates), Blue shattered a backboard.
THE SURPRISE: Said Blue of being selected by the Jazz, "When it was Utah's time to pick I wasn't even looking at the TV screen. The Jazz never talked to me. I didn't ever think I'd be going there."
Aha. Not only did the Jazz surprise the crowd in the Salt Palace last night. They surprised the guy they picked. For a few seconds there, even Blue Edwards didn't know how to react when David Stern announced the Jazz's latest and greatest mystery draftee.