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Big day for Jazz franchise

Bank is partner on new practice center for team

John Stockton passed to Karl Malone, who delivered a nifty basket. Jerry Sloan watched approvingly. Larry H. Miller cried.

Just another normal day for the Jazz, right?

Not Tuesday.

Stockton did dish to Malone, Sloan was watching and team-owner Miller was weeping, but it was not because a game was being played, a win or loss on the line.

Rather, the occasion was the unveiling of the Jazz's new 50,000-square-foot practice facility, and the announcement of a multiyear naming-rights agreement for it to be formally known as Zions Bank Basketball Center.

Jazz officials deemed the two-court, two-story structure "state-of-the-art," with cost — not including land procurement — running more than $8 million. That's about $3 million in excess of initial estimates.

"I don't see any peach baskets in here," said Sloan, the Jazz's head coach whose club hosts Seattle tonight at the Delta Center. "This place is unbelievable."

Located just off I-15 at 1414 S. 500 West in Salt Lake City, the center features everything from a 59-seat theater, a hydrotherapy training pool and a 2,200 square-foot weight room to a players' lounge replete with big-screen TV, pool table and an awesome picture-window view of the Wasatch range.

"I don't think there's one better," Malone said. "If there is, I would like to see it."

"It's got more things than I would ever know how to use," added the old-school Stockton, who at a tearful Miller's urging, symbolically passed to 18-year teammate Malone for a staged "first basket" in the facility.

Perhaps more importantly than all the bells and whistles at the building, though, are the quality of its two full-sized NBA courts.

It's a permanent, floating system of well-cushioned maple hardwood, one which Jazz basketball operations Vice President Kevin O'Connor said "hopefully prolongs some of our players' careers."

The Jazz, who most recently have been leasing practice time at the Franklin Covey campus in West Valley City, are one of the last teams in the league to build their own practice court.

That thought was not lost on team President Denny Haslam as he pitched the project to Miller: "Most other teams in the league have had such a facility," Haslam said, "and we were lagging behind some."

Not anymore.

The always emotional Miller knows that now, especially after hearing it from Stockton, and being reminded of it again Tuesday by Malone.

"John," Miller said with reference to the 40-year-old Stockton, "said . . . 'Geeze, if you had done this a while ago, I could have played another 10 years.' "

"He (Miller) waited about 19 and 18 years too late," Malone said with regard to how many seasons Stockton and he have played, "but that's all right."

Now that it's built, Haslam said he hopes the center will help the Jazz achieve their ultimate goal of winning of an NBA title — in part by using it as a tool for attracting free agents to Salt Lake.

But as nice as it is, Malone said he isn't so sure it will help that much.

Rather, he said, most free agents are more interested in money, nightlife and housing than where they're going to practice.

"Everything in here," Malone said, "signifies work. A lot of people run away from work.

"It's going to take a real special free agent," he added, "to say they want to see the practice facility first."

Even Stockton suggested the new digs will not play a role as he decides whether or not to return for a 20th NBA season in Utah.

"That decision will be made entirely separately," he said. "This stands on its own."

But don't misunderstand Stockton.

The NBA's all-time steals and assists leader is awfully happy the facility was finally built, even if it will be more for someone else's benefit than his own.

"This will be here for not just Karl and me and our teammates," Stockton said, "but for generations, hopefully, of teammates that will come through here."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com