The Utah Jazz began in 1974 as the New Orleans Jazz and struggled through five seasons in the Big Easy before moving to Salt Lake City and rebranding themselves as the Utah Jazz—an incongruous nickname if ever there was one—in 1979.
The franchise was officially launched on March 7, 1974, when founding owner Sam Battisone paid the $6.15 million expansion fee.
In their 39 years in New Orleans and Salt Lake City, the Jazz have reached the NBA Finals twice, back-to-back appearances in 1997 and 1998 that resulted in losses to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, and have made 25 playoff appearances, including a run of 20 consecutive playoff berths from 1984 through 2003.
So who are the best who have played for the Jazz by position? Read on.
Note: To qualify for this list, a player must have played a minimum of 250 games for the franchise.
Small Forward: Adrian Dantley
Adrian Dantley joined the Jazz in September 1979, just in time for their first season in Utah. The Los Angeles Lakers traded Dantley to Utah for Spencer Haywood in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.
Dantley played six seasons in Utah, from 1979-80 through 1985-86, and averaged 29.6 points per game on 56.2 percent shooting. He was also a solid and prolific free-throw shooter, hitting 81.8 percent and averaging 10.1 attempts per game during his time with the Jazz.
Here are some highlights from Dantley’s 37-point outburst against the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals:
Despite not ranking in the top 10 in games played, Dantley is third in franchise history with 13,635 points and twice led the NBA in scoring while with Utah. He averaged 30.7 points per game to win the scoring title in 1980-81 and his 30.6 points per game led the association in 1983-84, the first year the Jazz made the playoffs. He made five All-Star appearances representing Utah, missing only in 1982-83, when he missed all but 22 games with a knee injury, but he won Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1983-84 upon his return.
Dantley left the Jazz in August 1986, when he was traded with second-round picks in 1987 (Norris Coleman) and 1990 (Phil Henderson) to the Detroit Pistons for Kent Benson and Kelly Tripucka. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Power Forward: Karl Malone
Karl Malone, the 13th overall pick by the Jazz in the 1985 NBA Draft out of Louisiana Tech, is the franchise’s career leader in points (36,374), rebounds (14,701), free throws made and attempted (9,619 and 12,963, respectively), win shares (230.3) and shares the franchise’s all-time record for player efficiency rating (PER) with Adrian Dantley at 24.1.
Malone played 18 of his 19 NBA seasons with Utah, twice earning Most Valuable Player honors (1997, 1999). He was a 14-time All-Star with the Jazz, winning MVP honors in the midseason classic in 1989 and 1993 and was named first team All-NBA 11 times, twice earning second-team honors and being named to the third team in 2000-01. Malone retired as the NBA’s second-leading scorer with 36,928 points, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and is the all-time leader in free throws, free-throw attempts, defensive rebounds and turnovers.
The greatest player in franchise history signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2003 and retired after the 2003-04 season. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
Center: Mehmet Okur
The weakest of the five positions for the Jazz, Okur played seven years for the Jazz but was never the same after suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Game 1 of Utah’s first-round playoff series with the Denver Nuggets in 2010.
Okur put together a four-year run from 2005-06 through 2008-09 during which he averaged 16.8 points and eight rebounds per game. Overall with Utah, Okur averaged 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds in 474 games. He is ninth on the franchise’s career list with 7,255 points and 346 blocked shots and his 3,599 rebounds ranks 10th on the club’s all-time list.
Okur was an All-Star in 2007 after signing with the team as a free agent in July 2004 after playing his first two seasons in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons. He was traded to the New Jersey Nets in December 2011 for a 2015 second-round draft pick and a trade exception.
Okur was nicknamed “Money” for his ability to come through in crunch time. Here are some examples of Okur’s clutch gene being activated:
Prior to coming to the NBA, Okur played six seasons in the Turkish Basketball League and retired last November.
Shooting Guard: Jeff Hornacek
Hornacek came to Utah at the trade deadline in 1994 along with Sean Green and a 1995 second-round draft pick (Junior Burrough). In return, the Philadelphia 76ers received Jeff Malone and a 1994 first-round pick (B.J. Tyler).
Hornacek played six full seasons for the Jazz as well as the end of 1993-94 and averaged 14.4 points and shot 49.4 percent in 477 games. He was an outstanding shooter and is the franchise’s all-time leader in 3-point shooting at 42.8 percent and free-throw percentage at 89.6 percent. He led the league in free-throw accuracy in his final season (1999-00), hitting 95 percent.
Hornacek made an immediate impact for the Jazz, such as this run when he scored eight straight points against the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals in 1994:
Hornacek was also a key component to Utah’s two Finals teams as he averaged 13.6 points per game in 40 playoff games in 1997 and 1998. His 618 steals rank seventh on the Jazz’ career list and he is sixth in franchise history with 1,895 assists.
Hornacek retired after the 1999-00 season.
Point Guard: John Stockton
The other half of one of the longest-running and most productive duos in NBA history, Stockton came to the Jazz the year before Karl Malone. Utah drafted Stockton 16th overall in 1984 out of Gonzaga and he played his entire 19-year career with the Jazz.
The NBA’s all-time leader with 15,806 assists and 3,265 steals, Stockton led the league in assists per game nine straight years, from 1987-88 through 1995-96 and twice led the league in steals per game (1988-89 and 1991-92).
Stockton is second in franchise history with 19,711 points and is the club’s all-time leader with 1,504 games played. Stockton was incredibly durable, missing only 22 games (18 of those due to a sprained MCL suffered in the 1997 preseason) in 19 years. Stockton shared All-Star MVP honors with his teammate Malone in 1993 and was a 10-time All-Star. He was twice named to the All-NBA first team (1994 and 1995) and was a second-team selection six other times and retired after the 2002-03 season. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.