Dave Checketts, former president and general manager of the Utah Jazz and former president of the New York Knicks, was concluding his remarks at a luncheon Friday when he was asked if he had a favorite NBA team and player that he’s followed over the years.

Checketts cleverly dodged the question with a humorous counter offer.

“I have a most unfavorite player and unfavorite team,” the former sports executive said. “Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. If not for him, I would have had two rings with the Knicks and two with the Jazz.”

The friendly quip, which sparked a roar of laughter and applause, was made on Feb. 17, Michael Jordan’s 60th birthday and on the eve of NBA All-Star Weekend 2023 in Utah.

Checketts was reflecting on his nearly 40-year career in the sports industry while speaking on the topic of “Integrity in Pro Sports” at a Salt Lake City luncheon sponsored by BYU Management Society.

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Following his remarks, Checketts fielded some questions from the audience on the following topics:

NBA All-Star weekend

Checketts said he was thrilled to see the NBA All-Star game back in Utah.

“It’s very exciting. Everybody is scattered at the Grand America Hotel,” he said. “All it is when you are walking through there is everyone is taller than you are.”

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Impressions of ‘Pistol Pete’

Checketts was asked about his impressions of Pete Maravich, who only played all of 17 games for the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated to Salt Lake City.

Pete Maravich, New Orleans Jazz, 1979, in his last year in New Orleans before moving to Utah.
Pete Maravich, New Orleans Jazz, 1979, in his last year in New Orleans before moving to Utah for the 1979-80 season. Maravich played at the end of his career with the knee brace. | Tim Alexander, Deseret News

“I loved Pistol Pete. I have a picture in my study still today,” Checketts said. “He was 39 years old when we brought him to the Jazz to retire his number. In that picture, I am I’m holding up a large picture frame of his Jazz No. 7 jersey that we retired that day. He is shaking my hand, looking at the number. Little did we know that six months later he would be gone.”

Maravich died in 1988 after playing in a pickup basketball game as a consequence of an undetected heart defect.

“He was a complete gentleman and he understood what I was trying to do. I was trying to give the Jazz a heritage that was positive,” Checketts said. “We had never retired a number and he played for the team for a long time. ... I just felt so strongly we should retire his number. So it’s a great memory for me.”

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How are Ryan Smith and Danny Ainge doing?

Checketts shared his thoughts on the leadership of Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and CEO Danny Ainge and their decision to trade away stars Rudy Gobert and Donavan Mitchell and rebuild the Jazz roster this past year.

Checketts described Smith as a young disruptive entrepreneur with “great energy,” and a big reason why the All-Star game is back in Utah.

Checketts admitted up front that Ainge, former Boston Celtics general manager, is a friend.

“Danny is as good as it gets, in terms of a basketball executive,” Checketts said.

Ainge built team after team in Boston by stockpiling draft picks, one of which became Jayson Tatum. The opportunity to pick Tatum came because Ainge was willing to trade veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn — two players who contributed to the Celtics winning a championship, Checketts said.

Danny Ainge Ryan Smith speaks
Danny Ainge, left, and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, speak about Ainge’s new role as CEO of Utah Jazz Basketball, in charge of all basketball decisions, at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“If you don’t think he nearly got thrown out of Boston for that trade, he did,” Checketts said. “But Danny’s got great courage. He’s a sensational guy. They are very lucky to have him here.”

Many have asked Checketts for his opinion on the team’s decision to reset and start over.

“I think they made a really courageous decision,” Checketts said. “The decision was based on the team that they had did not have a chance to win a championship. ... What they have done is they have taken a pathway that is much harder, much more courageous. And I if I were a betting man — a milkshake — they will build a championship team here within the next five years.”

Checketts continued: “It might take another two or three years after that to win, but that team with Rudy and Donovan was not going to win a championship. They were being held hostage by that talent. The contracts that they were paying them did not allow them to surround them with the players they needed.”

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Is it safe to approach NBA stars and celebrities?

With downtown Salt Lake City full of NBA stars and celebrities this weekend, Checketts was asked if it is OK to approach the big names for an autograph or photo?

Patrick Ewing drives to the basket.
In this file photo, New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing drives past Denver Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo during the first half of their preseason game Tuesday, October 17, 1995 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo, N.Y. | Charles Agel, Associated Press

The question reminded Checketts of former New York great Patrick Ewing, who he said is one of the most misunderstood athletes in history.

Checketts said most peopled viewed Ewing as a “grump” or “bad personality,” which stretched back to his days as a college player at Georgetown.

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After Ewing signed with Knicks, Checketts sat him down and asked if he was ready to improve his reputation. He told Ewing if he ever saw him decline to sign an autograph for a kid he would fine him $25,000.

Checketts eventually learned that Ewing’s reason for not signing autographs was superstitious. Ewing worried that if he signed an autograph on the day of a game he wouldn’t play as well.

“He’s a delightful guy,” Checketts said of Ewing. “I can plan on it like clockwork every Father’s Day. I get a text from Patrick Ewing saying, ‘Happy Father’s Day, Dave, you have had such an influence in my life.’”

Returning to the original question, Checketts encouraged, “Go up and talk to them. If you have your kids or grandkids with you, take them up and hand them something to autograph. If they treat you badly, first of all, accept my apology. Secondly, understand that many of them come from (different) backgrounds. ... I hope they are kind to you. I think they will be if you see them walking around.”

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