The photo on the home page of NBA League Pass tells the story of how the perception of the Utah Jazz is changing around the league.
When one visits the site that allows subscribers to watch any NBA game, the first image that pops up is of Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell defending Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star and MVP Russell Westbrook, with Mitchell’s face toward the camera. Utah center Rudy Gobert is seen in the same line of vision as Mitchell.
The Jazz are being used as a selling point for League Pass? This same franchise that has throughout its existence fought the notion that the Beehive State is a boring place to play, that small-market teams don’t offer the same broad appeal as squads in larger cities?
Yes, and that image isn’t the only example of how Utah is being viewed as more of a must-see team than in years past. While League Pass offers equal access to all 30 teams in the NBA, the Jazz are slated to appear on either TNT or ESPN 11 times during the regular season. That number is up from seven a year ago and six in 2016.
“Rudy Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year, and Donovan Mitchell was the runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting. That’s two pretty big cornerstones of building a great young team, and I think that their success getting in and through the playoffs certainly attracted our attention,” NBA senior vice president of game schedule management Tom Carelli told the Deseret News. “They’re a compelling team to show and they’re very, very competitive in the Western Conference.”
But there’s more. Not only will Utah get more of its games on national TV this season, but many of its contests will be on important days or in marquee matchups. Chief among them, the Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers will play in one of five Christmas Day games (to be televised on ESPN), marking the first time since 1997 that Utah will play on Dec. 25.
The Jazz’s 1997 Christmas Day game against the Houston Rockets came after the club made its first of two straight NBA Finals appearances.
“We have a lot of good teams, but we’ve only got 10 slots to fill,” Carelli said. “You say, ‘OK, who are teams that we think can provide great matchups that people are going to want to see and are competitive, strong teams and will provide a great atmosphere in a nationally televised game on Christmas, and I think (the Jazz) check the box for every one of those criteria.”
Utah also will be one of three teams that will play a game in Mexico City this season, with that contest coming Dec. 15 against the Orlando Magic (the Magic will also play the Chicago Bulls there on Dec. 13). That game will air on NBA TV, one of six times the Jazz are slated to appear on that network.
“The Utah Jazz are excited to play in Mexico City and are proud to represent our fans and the NBA on a global stage,” team president Steve Starks said in a statement when the game was announced. “Our organization thanks the NBA and the people of Mexico City for this unique opportunity.”
Other TV highlights for the Jazz this season include home games on Oct. 19 against the Golden State Warriors (home opener on ESPN), Nov. 9 against the Boston Celtics (ESPN), Dec. 6 against the Houston Rockets (TNT), Dec. 27 against the Philadelphia 76ers (TNT) and both home matchups against the Los Angeles Lakers, on Jan. 11 and March 27, respectively (both will air on ESPN).
Utah was also selected to play on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is viewed as a special one on the NBA schedule. That will also be a home game, with the Trail Blazers again visiting Vivint Arena (no national television).
At the Jazz’s media day in September, Mitchell acknowledged the increased interest around the franchise, but said he and his teammates will try to block out the hype.
“For us as a team, we don’t really pay attention to all that,” he said. “I think we just focus on the task at hand and each other and getting better.”