SALT LAKE CITY — As has already been made clear on ESPN’s multipart documentary “The Last Dance” about the Chicago Bulls, the Utah Jazz were one of the best teams in the NBA in the late 1990s.

Sure, they were led by Hall of Famers Karl Malone and John Stockton as they made the franchise’s only runs to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, but in many ways, the heartbeat of the team was a player who rarely started and put up only a modest stat line.

That heartbeat would be the “Big Dawg,” Antoine Carr, whose hard-working attitude on the floor and infectious personality off it made him a crucial piece of the Jazz’s best teams and a fan favorite.

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More than 20 years later, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the guy who was counted on to do the dirty work in the paint and make his patented midrange jumper but also regularly appeared in goofy commercials (“Show me the title!” might bring back some memories) and once ended up on New World Order wrestling is still working hard and engaging with fans.

On the hard work front, the 58-year-old Carr runs a construction business in the San Antonio area that primarily does remodeling of historic buildings and homes. As far as maintaining a relationship with fans, he keeps up with loyal Jazz followers on Twitter on a near daily basis. 

“I always felt it was the fans who made me in the first place. I just enjoy people, so that’s why I do what I do and why I enjoy just talking and hanging out and seeing what their lives are about.” — Antoine Carr

“I always felt it was the fans who made me in the first place,” he said recently by phone from Texas about why he still likes to connect with them. “I just enjoy people, so that’s why I do what I do and why I enjoy just talking and hanging out and seeing what their lives are about.”

The 6-foot-9 Carr arrived in Utah as a free-agent signee in 1994 having already played 10 seasons in the NBA for the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs. The Jazz at the time were on the cusp of breaking through to the Finals, having lost in the Western Conference Finals the season before he arrived.

Utah was stunned in the first round by the eventual champion Houston Rockets in 1995 and then lost a close Game 7 to the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1996 Western Conference Finals before finally breaking through to the Finals in 1997 as Stockton made the most famous shot in franchise history in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Rockets.

At that point, Finals fever swept through Salt Lake City, and Carr, the oldest player on the Jazz, was certainly a key figure in town and on the court.

“We really enjoyed ourselves as a community, and that’s what I take more than anything,” he recalled. “We were all together and we were making something happen because we had a belief. A lot of people didn’t believe in the Utah Jazz at that time except the Utahns and a few (other) fans.”

As far as the squad was concerned, Carr said, “Our team was pretty cool. We really didn’t argue much about anything,” and he especially remembers the competitions in practice between the starters and a reserve group that he led to be one of the NBA’s best.

“We can kick anybody’s butt if we can kick the first team’s butt,” he said of the second unit’s mindset. “We used to have good battles in practice. That was our thing. We wanted to prove to people that anytime you get the first team or the second team, you’re in trouble.”

Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller poses with former player Antoine Carr as members of the 1997 Western Conference champion team are introduced at halftime in Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. The 58-year-old Carr now runs a construction business in the San Antonio area. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Carr left the Jazz after the 1998 Finals trip and played sparingly in two more seasons, one for the Rockets and one for the Vancouver Grizzlies. Having worked construction as a youngster, he thought he’d go back to it because “Well, I gotta do something. I’m not just going to stay at home. I figured I better get out of the house and make something happen.”

When he gets the chance to mentor people, he said he tries to stress the importance of hard work that went a long way in helping him have a successful NBA career.

“If you put your nose to the grindstone and you put in the work, you’ll have a chance, and that’s what I found out. So I always try to tell people every chance I get, ‘Look, no matter what’s happened to you, you’ve still got a chance, so put in the work,’” he said.

He even says, to put it in his words, that he’s “turning back time.” The secret? For those who remember his time here, it’s a quintessential Antoine Carr recipe.

“Just try to stay happy no matter what,” he said. “Stay happy and keep laughing. Life will present itself in a good manner sooner or later, so just keep your nose to the grindstone and praise God at the same time and you’ll be all right.”