SALT LAKE CITY — Trevor Booker hadn’t intended on retiring from the NBA this year. Of course, this year hasn’t exactly played out the way anyone thought it would.
Booker spent his last year in the NBA — the 2017-18 season — on three different teams before he signed with a Chinese Basketball Association team last season. His international stint was cut short when he came back to the states to undergo surgery on his foot.
“I was looking to get back in the NBA this season, right before the playoffs, and then COVID-19 hit,” Booker said. “It had been over a year since I’d been in the NBA and with the virus, I knew it would be a while before they got back so it would be two years coming up soon since I’d been in the league. I knew it would be difficult and I don’t think my body wants to endure that type of grind anymore.”
It was a tough decision for Booker to make, but with his kids getting older and starting to get into sports and other activities themselves, he wanted to make sure he was around.
With the decision made, Booker wrote a letter and shared it with his fans via social media. A huge portion of the fans that responded with encouragement and congratulations were Utah Jazz fans, and that was no surprise to Booker.
Despite only spending two of his eight seasons in Utah, from 2014-2016, on nonplayoff teams, coming off the bench and averaging just 6.5 points and 5.4 rebounds with the Jazz, Booker became a fan favorite and built a bond with the Jazz faithful in a way that neither will forget.
“They’re the best fans in the NBA,” he said without hesitation. “I love those fans. They’ve showed me nothing but love. They just appreciate players who go out and give it their all and leave everything on the court. Playing in front of them when they got rowdy, it made it easier for me to jump around on the court and dive for loose balls and stuff. They love seeing that. I have nothing but great memories when it comes to the fans in Utah.”
In the summer of 2014, Booker was a free agent. In a meeting with the Jazz’s new coach Quin Snyder and then general manager Dennis Lindsey, Booker felt like he was a natural fit for not just the Jazz, but Utah in as well.
“It was my choice to go out to Utah,” he said. “It sounded fun, I had my family with me, I knew that Utah was family oriented. It was the perfect situation for me.”
On the court Booker did what he’s always done. He carved out a role in the NBA as an enforcer and a player who would always do the little things, the dirty work that might not show up on a stat sheet, but that teammates and coaches see as invaluable.
Off the court, he became close friends with teammates Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles, bonds that have lasted through the years, and grew to respect Snyder as one of the league’s best basketball minds.
“When I first saw Coach Q I thought he was going to be a crazy guy. Once I got to know him, he’s a super cool guy, very smart, the highest basketball IQ of anyone I’ve ever been around. We still keep in contact to this day. He’s a true players coach.” — Trevor Booker
“When I first saw Coach Q I thought he was going to be a crazy guy,” Booker said. “Once I got to know him, he’s a super cool guy, very smart, the highest basketball IQ of anyone I’ve ever been around. We still keep in contact to this day. He’s a true players coach.”
After leaving Utah in 2016, Booker thought that there was still a chance he could return to the Jazz. He even toyed with fans on social media over the last year, slyly suggesting that if the Jazz were looking for a power forward, he was available.
“Pretty much just me trolling,” he said with a laugh. “Wishful thinking, hoping that Utah saw it and they make a move or start a conversation. I’m still very close with the fans so it was always a place I could see myself going back to.”
Booker didn’t end up back in Utah, and instead his career wrapped up during one of the most uncertain times in NBA history. But, Jazz fans continue to remember Booker’s time with the team fondly.
In Jody Genessy’s book “100 Things Jazz Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” an entire entry is dedicated to Booker.
In a recent mailbag article in which I asked Jazz fans to tell me who their favorite bench players have been, Booker was by far the most mentioned.
Jazz fans reach out to Booker and approach him often to show their gratitude for the short stint he spent with the team and many of them remember the volleyball shot that is still an all-time NBA highlight.
With 0.2 seconds left on the shot clock at the end of the first half of a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, Gordon Hayward was inbounding the ball. The only possible chance the Jazz had was to tip in the ball.
Booker dashed toward the basket looking for a lob but was crowded by defenders. He moved toward the sideline for an easier passing lane and when Hayward threw in the ball, Booker tapped it backwards like a volleyball bump, over his head and straight into the hoop.
Booker owns a private high school, Combine Academy, and some of the kids from the school were watching circus shots one day and were talking about Booker’s shot, not even realizing it was him who had pulled off the near-impossible feat.
But it’s not that shot that Booker thinks about first when asked what his favorite memories are from his time with the Jazz. There were big games and big shots, sure. What stands out most for Booker is the fans.
“The ball got stuck one time behind the backboard and I got the broom and unplugged the ball and it bounced over and went in and the fans went crazy,” he said when listing moments he’ll never forget from being in Utah. “They got loud and they just loved it. They were always like that, even when it didn’t matter.”
Booker isn’t completely finished with basketball. Combine Academy continues to grow, something that Booker is incredibly proud of, making it a point to say that next year the basketball team will be ranked 14th in the country. He may not even be done with the NBA.
When I asked, “What’s next for Trevor Booker?” He said that he’s been thinking about that for a while now.
“I think I’m going into the sports agent business,” he said. “I have a lot of relationships that I can utilize. I’m a former NBA player, I do nothing but watch games anyway so why not?”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Booker has a plan. He’s been a serial entrepreneur for years, making hundreds of real estate investments, becoming a minority owner of MLS team DC United, and investing in multiple ventures.
Booker has been spending a lot of his time studying the collective bargaining agreement and getting the ball rolling in his latest endeavor.
“If I’m going to meet with a player and try to persuade him to come my way, I want to know everything first before I pitch to the player how I’m going to help them,” he said.
For Jazz fans, the pitch to sign with Booker would be simple. If you want someone who will always work hard and do all the little things, and care even when they aren’t around anymore, Booker is your guy.