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AFTER 2 DECADES OF SERVICE TO JAZZ, TRAINER SPARKS DECIDES IT’S TIME TO GO

SHARE AFTER 2 DECADES OF SERVICE TO JAZZ, TRAINER SPARKS DECIDES IT’S TIME TO GO

He was there the night Pistol Pete Maravich poured in 68 points against the Knicks. And the night Karl Malone, miffed that he didn't make the All-Star team starting lineup, got 61. He was there at the Salt Palace when they booed the selection of John Stockton on Draft Day, 1984. He saw Adrian Dantley's matchless footwork and Rickey Green's blinding speed and Mark Eaton's enormous reach.

Don Sparks was there for it all. There when the Utah Jazz were still the New Orleans Jazz and won only 23 games all season. There for the electrifying triple-overtime win over Chicago in 1992. There during 1988 playoffs when the Jazz suddenly, undeniably became a team to be taken seriously, even by the haughty Los Angeles Lakers.Sparks, the longtime Jazz trainer, announced his retirement Friday, concluding 20 years with the franchise. He has attended every game in franchise history - 1,886 in all, including exhibition and playoff games.

"It's hard to leave," said Sparks, at a Friday press conference at the Delta Center. "I have a lot of good memories, particularly the latter years."

Known as "Sparky" by everyone in the Jazz organization, Sparks took care of training duties, as well as acting as the team's travel secretary. He not only taped ankles and stitched cuts; he also arranged hotel rooms and airline flights.

Sparks said he doesn't know how much tape he used in his career, but at the end of one season he figured how many miles of ankle tape he used that year. He said it would have stretched several miles to the nearest town.

Sparks said when the Jazz moved to Utah 15 years ago, he had been to Salt Lake City before. He was previously a college and ABA trainer. "Bourbon Street to the Mormon tabernacle was quite a move," said Sparks.

He added, however, that he "wished it would have happened sooner, because Salt Lake is a city I would liked to have raised my family in."

Sparks and his wife Joyce live in North Salt Lake and are the parents of three grown children.

The NBA Trainer of the Year in 1984, Sparks was named Western Conference trainer for the All-Star Game three times.

Sparks' consecutive games streak is phenomenal. He said one year while working in New Orleans, he developed a kidney stone. He was admitted to a hospital in the morning, but attended the Jazz game that evening.

"They (the hospital) made me promise that if I would go to the game with another trainer on one side and a doctor on the other side, and check back into the hospital that night, I could go to the game," said Sparks. "So that's what happened."

Jazz Director of Basketball Operations Scott Layden said, "One of the measures of success in sports is consistency and longevity. Sparky has been an iron man."

Sparks thanked Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, former owner Sam Battistone and others in the organization who helped him over the years. He said he plans to spend more time fishing.

The Jazz are already considering replacement candidates. They expect to have a replacement in time for the summer league in July.