The time has come for the Utah Jazz and their fans to embrace being disrespected, undervalued, underestimated and looked over.
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were the last players selected in the All-Star draft Thursday night when LeBron James and Kevin Durant chose everyone else to be on their teams before Mitchell and Gobert were the only names left on the board.
That would have been enough to ruffle feathers, but James added insult to injury twice. During the TNT broadcast of the draft, James said he needed size on his team before choosing Domantas Sabonis over Gobert and then later took shots at the Jazz, painting the franchise as undesirable.
As Charles Barkley was standing up for the Jazz, noting their league-leading record and that it was slanderous for their two best players to be the last players chosen, James responded by throwing not only the current Jazz under the bus, but also the John Stockton and Karl Malone Jazz.
“There’s no slander to the Utah Jazz,” James said with a laugh. “In video games growing up we never played with Utah, even as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton was we would have never picked those guys in video games, never.”
The message sent was pretty clear. There never has been respect for the Jazz, and even now — in real life, not a video game — they don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter that James’ Lakers lost to them recently or that Gobert scored 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting in last year’s All-Star game. None of that matters and it’s going to continue to not matter.
It’s really easy for Jazz fans or even players to find evidence of disrespect to fuel their continued resentment. If Mitchell and Gobert are to be believed, there is an officiating bias against the Jazz. There’s no shortage of national analysts and pundits that say the Jazz aren’t really contenders, and the league doesn’t really help matters when the winningest team of the season doesn’t get the same national treatment as other teams.
The Philadelphia 76ers, the top team in the East, have 13 games on the national TV schedule for the second half of the season. The Boston Celtics, currently fourth in the East, have 16 national TV appearances ahead of them. The Dallas Mavericks, eighth in the West, are scheduled to play 14 nationally televised games. The Jazz are scheduled to play 11 games on national TV after the All-Star break.
Shaquille O’Neal told Mitchell to his face on national TV that he doesn’t think the All-Star has what it takes to take the Jazz to the next level.
Mitchell is certainly sick of hearing all the doubts. During his rant about unfair officiating following the Jazz loss to the Sixers on Wednesday, he made that very clear.
“The question is can we do it? Can we sustain it? Are we for real No. 1? Like, yeah the hell we are,” he said before dropping an expletive in his frustration.
Now, I’m not from Utah, but I absolutely understand being underestimated and disrespected.
I’m from a very small town and when I had aspirations of being an NBA reporter there were countless people that doubted me, including family, friends and professors. And you know what feels really good? Making it.
Internalizing every slight, every offhand remark, every time that someone didn’t think I could make it, made me want to realize my goals even more and the sweetest revenge was actually making it.
I get being angry. You’d think having a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two two-time All-Stars, the leading candidates for Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year, and the best record in the league would garner a little more respect, so I understand being angry.
But just think about how good it will feel if the Jazz go all the way.
Think about how much you’ll be able to say, “I told you so.”
None of the doubters and haters are going to matter if the Jazz are holding a Larry O’Brien trophy on a parade through Salt Lake City, but it’ll sure be nice to see the look on their faces when Gobert and Mitchell are posing for photo-ops with their championship hardware.
There are many who believe that James was playing mind games Thursday during the All-Star draft. That he was subtly saying, “Hey Utah, you think you’re the best in the league? Well, you don’t matter to me.”
I think the best response is one that was recently used by Mitchell.
Embrace it all. Let everyone in the NBA doubt the Jazz. Let them continue their campaigns of disrespect and underestimation. Fly under the radar and then bask in the glory when they are all proven wrong.