There’s something about Carlos Boozer and strange, ugly breakups, and there’s something about Salt Lake City and strange, ugly breakups, and now they get each other in a collision course of histories and emotions.
Bulls vs. Jazz, EnergySolutions Arena, tonight. BYO Ear Plugs.
Boozer, in his first game back since signing a free-agent deal in Chicago, is going to get blasted. He is going to get blasted in a way that may rival, if not surpass, the verbal rainstorms routinely unleashed on Derek Fisher, and that’s saying something considering taunts directed at Fisher set new standards for classless. It’s moments like fans putting a hand over an eye — to mock him for asking to be let out of a contract in 2007 to live in the same city where his daughter could get treatment for a serious eye ailment, then signing with the rival Lakers — that has some around the league rating Utah’s atmosphere as the ugliest in the league.
Fisher isn’t the only Jazz-turned-Laker to get some venom from the SLC crowd. In 2004, then-Lakers power forward Karl Malone, who won two MVPs with the Jazz, was the focus of an in-game skit that earned the Jazz a $15,000 fine from the NBA.
Jazz backers feel Fisher used his daughter’s sickness to get out of his deal just to rejoin the Lakers. But Boozer completed his contract and performed at a high level.
He averaged 19.5 points and 11.2 points in 2009-10 and 19.7 and 13.2, respectively, in the playoffs. He was All-NBA third team in 2007-08, made two All-Star teams and was on the 2008 Olympic “Redeem Team” as a member of the Jazz. Through all the complaints that he was soft and took the slow lane back to the lineup after an injury, he played at least 74 games three of the last four campaigns, including 78 last season. He didn’t bail on anybody.
He never made a great connection in Utah, though, even in good times. A lot of people read him as insincere and rooted for his departure last summer in favor of keeping drama-less Paul Millsap at power forward. They were understandably angered when Boozer flirted with the Heat in previous offseasons, clearly hoping for a trade. Deron Williams openly waved his potential free-agent exit when he was upset, and he didn’t get the same negative reaction.
Plus, it’s Carlos Boozer. He showed up in 2004 under bad circumstances, after the Cavaliers felt double-crossed when they allowed Boozer to become a free agent with the expectation he would quickly re-sign with a large raise, only to have him spring to the Jazz. It’s why he got booed hard back in Cleveland. Maybe Utah fans were never able to trust him because of how he got there in the first place.
Tonight will be interesting for reasons that have nothing to do with the game itself. It won’t be as filled with tension as when LeBron James returned to Cleveland, but Boozer back in EnergySolutions Arena will have venom and noise.
Of course it will. It’s Boozer and it’s Salt Lake City.