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Utah Jazz bridging NBA Finals era with current team’s aspirations by bringing back ‘purple mountain’ jerseys

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People walk past a mural featuring Utah Jazz players during a party at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. This season, the Utah Jazz will be celebrating one of the most successful periods in franchise history by bringing back its iconic purple mountain jerseys, which the team wore from 1996 until 2004.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The first six seasons of the 1990s brought a level of success the Utah Jazz had never reached, as the purple, green and gold-clad squad reached the Western Conference Finals three times.

But just two days after falling to the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games in the 1996 conference finals, the Jazz unveiled a major branding change that saw them ditch the uniforms and color scheme of their first 22 years of existence dating back to their days in New Orleans and replace them with a more Utah-centric logo featuring a mountain range. The home jerseys were white with a purple mountain range, and the road threads were purple with a white mountain range.

With their new look, the Jazz finally broke through the conference finals barrier. In 1997, John Stockton hit a last-second shot in Game 6 against the Houston Rockets to famously send Utah to the NBA Finals, and the team got back there a year later. The Jazz fell to the Chicago Bulls both seasons, but they remain the most successful ones in franchise history. 

Perhaps it’s fitting that as Utah gets ready to embark on a 2019-2020 campaign that has fans more excited than they’ve been in a long time, the Jazz are bringing back the “purple mountain” jerseys for 15 games, 11 of which will be home games played on a court with the same design the team played on from 1996-2004 when the jerseys were changed again.

So far, fans are going wild over the new-old jerseys. Morgan Evans, the vice president of retail operations for the Jazz, told the Deseret News that the Aug. 28 launch day (when fans could preorder jerseys online), which came after months of speculation that Utah would wear the throwbacks this season, was the biggest in team store history.

“What I’ve seen that’s been really cool is a lot of the people that were kids that grew up in the ’90s, they’re parents now, and so they’ve got kids and they’re able to share those past experiences — the John Stockton shot , the Finals runs — and now there’s a team on the floor where the kids, they’re able to talk about Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and they’re able to kind of tie them together.

“I think there’s a lot of nostalgic excitement, but at the same, a lot of excitement for the here and now. That’s what’s really exciting about the Classic year right now.”

That theme of bridging the old with the new was a common one last Saturday as the Jazz held what they dubbed a “purple mountain party” at Vivint Arena. There, fans could buy jerseys, take a photo on the throwback court, game-worn jerseys from the ’90s were on display, big cardboard cutouts of both former and current players were stationed on the concourse and Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals was shown on the big screen.

“These jerseys resemble success,” said fan Zach DeMass, who was wearing a Donovan Mitchell purple mountain jersey at the party. “When we think of these, we think of Stockton and (Karl) Malone, and so hopefully we can have (Rudy) Gobert, Mitchell, etc., bring back that vibe that they had back then.”

Added DeMass’ friend Matt Ruoho, who was donning a Joe Ingles purple mountain jersey: “I think it’s really cool because back then they had some great players, and now after this offseason, we have some really good players now, so I think it’s just kind of showing the potential that the Jazz have for this season, and I’m excited for it.”

Lari Frandsen was in college when Utah made its Finals runs, and her young son Lane was decked out at the party in a Mitchell purple mountain jersey. Frandsen is excited for the opportunity the jerseys will give her to teach her son more about the ’90s-era Jazz.

“I think that was just a great time period in Jazz history, so it’s really fun for these young kids to get a chance to see the old jerseys and learn about some of the older players,” she said.

As far as current Jazz players are concerned, the throwback jerseys have been well-received. Mitchell has leaned all the way in on them, as a custom version of his new signature shoe features the mountain logo, while Mike Conley has used #MountainMike in social media posts numerous times. Dante Exum’s Instagram profile picture is an illustration of him in the jersey (the team did one for each player), while Tony Bradley said, “I love them.”

That said, there’s at least one player who isn’t getting too into the excitement surrounding the threads.

“Honestly, bro, I don’t care, man,” Ed Davis said. “I wear the same shoes every day. I really don’t care how I look on the court. I’m just trying to get the job done.”

In that sense, Davis and Evans are aligned. While shirts, sweatshirts, basketballs, cups and mugs are among the throwback items already in stock beside the purple mountain jerseys, Evans said more merchandise will be made available as the season begins.

“We’ve got high expectations, just like the Jazz do on the floor,” he said. “We think we’ve got the inventory to handle it, and it’s going to be a fun year.”