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Gone for the Games: Jazz hit road as skating takes over at Delta Center

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With so many home games to plan for over the course of an 82-game NBA season, franchise employees can't always keep up with the Jazz as much as they'd like when the team is on the road.

For most of this February, however, things will be quite different.

"We'll get to go home at the end of the day like most people in normal professions," said David Allred, the club's vice president of public relations. "We'll get to go home — and watch Jazz games on the road."

And they can do it knowing they won't have to prepare for yet another home game — tomorrow, the next night, or the one after that. Because for a stretch of 25 straight days in February, the Jazz's home will be the road.

From Feb. 3 through the 27th, no NBA games will be played in the Delta Center.

Instead, the building becomes the Salt Lake Ice Center — home to 2002 Winter Olympics figure skating and short-track speedskating.

During that span, the Jazz will play nine away games: One each at Houston and Memphis prior to NBA All-Star Game weekend, a six-games-in-nine-nights trip after the break, and then, after a five-day stretch in which they return to Utah to practice, a single game at Sacramento.

Conversion of the Delta Center, Allred said, begins immediately after the Jazz play host to Portland in a Feb. 2 afternoon game.

The hardcourt will be broken down, and ice installed. Signs throughout the building all will be covered, so no one even knows it's the Delta Center, or who its usual sponsors are. Locker rooms, including the Jazz's, become home to folks who live on a long, thin blades — not those who duck through doorways.

First event is pairs short-program figure skating, scheduled Feb. 9. Olympic competition at the Delta Center, err, Salt Lake Ice Center continues every day but one through Feb. 23. And then transformation back to basketball arena will begin.

"For all intents and purposes, from the second of February until we come back (to play Memphis) on the 28th," Allred said, "this building belongs to (the Salt Lake Organizing Committee)."

That does not, however, mean Jazz workers are banned from the building.

In fact, unlike the E Center — built specifically with the Olympics in mind, prompting total displacement of the minor-league Utah Grizzlies hockey team — the 10-year-old Delta Center still will house numerous Jazz employees.

Many will alter their work schedules, arriving early so they can be gone before skating begins. Most must park somewhere different than usual, though none farther away than the nearby Triad Center or Gateway complex. And nearly everyone only will be able to access areas they normally do.

A few will work from home. And, in a worst-case scenario, others may use the KJZZ-TV and local auto dealership offices of team owner Larry H. Miller.

But, Allred said, "Actually, it will be pretty much be business as normal for us."

One man who may hang around longer the rest, though, is Jazz vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor. While toe loops are perfected, he will be hard at work trying to maintain and improve the basketball team.

The Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline actually falls during the Games, so O'Connor very well could be working on a deal to ship some players elsewhere while skaters from Canada, Russia and the rest of the world work to impress the judges.

"Getting here is gonna be a little bit of a hassle (since the entire Delta Center is contained within the Olympic Games' downtown secure zone). But that's not a big issue," O'Connor said. "The big issue for us is basketball operations and how we travel."

The Jazz essentially will set up camp at their usual practice facility, the Franklin Covey Wellness Center in West Valley City.

"As far as the players go," O'Connor said, "it's not going to be a horrible inconvenience."

But some things will be done differently, especially for those on the team's periphery.

Selling tickets for March home games "will be tough," O'Connor said.

Also changed: the way the team flies.

Rather than park personal vehicles on the Salt Lake International Airport tarmac for charter flights out of town, as is customary, team members and the Jazz travel party must meet at a private parking facility before busing to their plane. And instead of flying directly home from Denver after their six-game trip, the club first will go to a satellite airport for security clearance, as all charter flights in and out Salt Lake during the Games must do.

Then there are simple day-to-day operations, such as those that will force head trainer Gary Briggs and assistant Terry Clark to both alter their normal routines: The Jazz, for instance, usually do laundry and keep most supplies and equipment (such as workout apparel and spare shoes) at the Delta Center, where they also maintain their primary training-room and medical operations.

"It's just something that you have to adjust to," said Clark, who will launder all of the team's clothes at Franklin Covey, where the number of washing machines are half that normally used at the Delta Center.

"It will be difficult (and) it will be a little more time-consuming," Clark added, "but we'll get it done."

All in all, Jazz officials do realize things are not nearly as bad as they could be.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal," O'Connor said.

"If you don't want the inconvenience," Allred added, "then I guess you're not a major-league city."


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com