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If you’re an NBA coach in danger of losing your job, it’s probably not great to look at the schedule and see that the Utah Jazz are coming to town.
That’s where Luke Walton found himself on Saturday night.
To be fair, there were rumors swirling that Walton could lose his job at any moment. If the Sacramento Kings had lost to the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 15, it was believed he would have been fired after the game. Alas, the Kings won and Walton lived to fight for five more days.
A head coach getting fired is not anything new, especially in Sacramento. But the circumstances on that Saturday night were particularly strange.
Beat reporters who travel to cover NBA teams are a part of a community of reporters around the country, all of us plugged in to the goings on of the team we cover. In media rooms at NBA arenas, reporters gather and swap stories and theories and anecdotes over dinner before we head out to watch the game.
Sometimes, if there’s time after all of the postgame interviews and writing, reporters will head out to a local watering hole for a bite to eat or to just unwind before heading off to sleep. In California, where I’m from, I’m particularly close with the reporters in the Bay Area and Sacramento, so there’s almost always a guarantee of rich conversation.
But, as soon as I entered the media room at the Golden 1 Center, there was a tension in the air. The reporters were all just waiting for it to happen. Walton getting fired was an inevitability at that point. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was when.
They were honestly surprised that Walton was made available to the media that night before the game. The night before, the Toronto Raptors had walloped the Kings, 108-89 and they thought he would be sent packing before the Jazz ever got to the arena that night.
But the game went on. Only, it was interrupted by a fan who threw up on the court, a scene that seemed almost poetic had it not been so disgusting. The jokes flew around on social media with zero hesitation. “I’d throw up to if I had to watch the Sacramento Kings lose every night,” one person said.
After everything was cleaned up, and all was said and done, the Jazz beat the Kings, 123-105. Local reporters said the postgame comments from Walton, for the first time, sounded like excuses, like they would be his last.
Later that night, sitting around a table with some of the Sacramento reporters, we guessed at how much longer Walton would last. But the loss to the Jazz was one loss too many for the Sacramento brass. Walton was fired the next morning.
So that’s the lasting image that people will have of Walton’s tenure with the Kings. Everyone was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. That shoe ended up in a fan’s vomit and the Jazz walking away with an easy win.
New with the Jazz
Stat of the week
Heading into Wednesday night, Mike Conley was shooting a career-best 45.9% from 3-point range. Outside of Rudy Gay (who was shooting 50% from deep after just three games this season) Conley leads the Jazz in 3-point percentage.
From the archives
This week in Jazz history
On Nov. 26, 2000, John Stockton appeared in his 1,271st NBA game, all in a Utah Jazz uniform, passing previous record-holder John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics for most career games played for one team. “I have such great respect for John Havlicek, I can’t even express it,” said Stockton.
- Analysis: Jazz beat lowly Thunder, but it was not pretty (Deseret News)
- Video: Breaking down the Jazz’s late-game collapse against the Grizzlies (Deseret News)
- Yoga and an extra mile: How the Jazz are staying healthy this season (KSL.com)
- Utah Jazz grow frustrated as the same old issues crop up again (Salt Lake Tribune)
- Utah’s newest license plate allows you to ‘Take Note’ (KSL.com)
Around the league
Denver Nuggets’ P.J. Dozier suffers torn ACL.
What all 30 NBA teams should be thankful for this season.
Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson nearing return.
Nov. 26 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans | AT&T SportsNet
Nov. 27 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans | AT&T SportsNet
Nov. 29 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers | AT&T SportsNet
Dec. 3 | 7 p.m. | Utah Jazz vs. Boston Celtics | AT&T SportsNet
Dec. 5 | 1:30 p.m. | Utah Jazz @ Cleveland Cavaliers | AT&T SportsNet