Utah sports wouldn’t be the same without these three men

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SALT LAKE CITY – As 2019 turned into 2020, two men left the scene without whom it’s no exaggeration to suggest professional basketball wouldn’t exist in Utah – while a third man, still alive and well, made his full-time sports writing exit, leaving a huge void on the Utah sports scene.

First to leave, December 29, 2019, was Ladell Andersen, the legendary basketball coach who made saves at the University of Utah (as an assistant), at State University of Utah and Brigham Young University – Utah’s trifecta – while winning 62% of its games without ever being fired.

Former Utah State coach Ladell Andersen, right, with players LeRoy Walker, Myron Long, Wayne Estes and Mikey Dittebrand.
Courtesy of USU Athletics

And as if that wasn’t enough, between stints at Utah State and BYU, he coached the American Basketball Association’s Utah Stars for two seasons, winning a division championship in both years.

The Stars and the ABA closed in the mid-1970s, a few seasons after Ladell returned from professional play to the stability of college life. But what he and the Stars had accomplished didn’t go unnoticed in New Orleans, where an NBA owner named Sam Battistone was tearing his hair out trying to monetize his expanding franchise, the New Orleans Jazz.

Desperate to move, Battistone took note that the Stars not only won a lot in Salt Lake City, but regularly sold their arena.

Drawn to this story, in the summer of 1979 Battistone brought Jazz to Utah. The problem was that their financial problems were with them.

Every season, Jazz was losing money. At one point, they sold their 1982 No.3 draft pick Dominique Wilkins for $ 1 million just to stay afloat.

Watching this from the NBA headquarters in New York City, the league’s executive vice president, an attorney by the name of David Stern, thought he might be able to help Jazz’s terrible management issues by. sending a young and hungry business executive, Dave, 28. Checketts, who was also from Utah.

Battistone agreed and made Checketts its general manager in 1983.

The following year, David Stern became NBA commissioner and continued to do whatever he could to help the Jazz, including traveling to Salt Lake City to accompany Checketts on a visit to Spence Eccles at the First Security Bank to see if the bank would grant $ 6.5 million. ready for new Jazz owner Larry H. Miller.

When Eccles said yes, the future of jazz in Utah was saved. It was far from the last time David Stern would seek the franchise in the backcountry during his 30-year reign (1984-2014). The Jazz had a friend in high places.

Stern died in New York City on New Years Day, three days after Andersen died in St. George.

Ladell and the Commissioner were very different personalities – one was a Jewish child who grew up in New Jersey and worked in his father’s delicatessen in Manhattan, the other a Mormon boy from Malad, Idaho. . But from my perspective as a sports journalist working on their premiums, they had one thing in common. Each was as down to earth as gravity. They treated everyone equally.

Right after Stern became NBA commissioner, he came to Utah with his wife and their two sons for a ski vacation and invited me in, as I was the sports editor of Deseret News and the commissioner was a man who was always looking to network, to join his family. for a few errands in Park City. When we stopped for lunch, he pulled me aside and said, “I gave my son (Eric) $ 20 to pay for lunch (Remember, that was in 1984. ) Please don’t embarrass him trying to pay. “

I never had a hard time believing the stories of David Stern getting the upper hand in the negotiations.

On another occasion, I was in Sun Valley playing in a charity golf event in a foursome with Ladell Andersen. After missing a putt, I tried my putter. As we came off the green, the coach put his hand on my shoulder and, in a conspiratorial aside, advised me, “Throw the ball; it’s cheaper. “Then he laughed and added,” I know that from experience. “

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The other departure from the Utah sports scene came with the announcement that sports journalist Kurt Kragthorpe is retiring after a 42-year career.

Kurt has spent the last 30 years at the Salt Lake Tribune, but the Deseret News is the first place that got it after graduating from Utah State University in 1985. Kurt did such a good job covering the beat. jazz, the Tribune raided the News for him. He was like a five-tool baseball guy. He could report, express opinions, write well, write quickly, and he was fair. It helped that he was the son of a coach – his father, Dave, was the head football coach in the state of Oregon, the state of South Dakota and the state of Idaho, in addition to being a LaVell Edwards staff assistant at BYU.

But like David Stern and Ladell Anderson, Kurt didn’t use his pedigree to make others feel less important. There wasn’t a hint of great time in him. Pampered is the only word he couldn’t spell. His favorite golf course was the now defunct University of Utah nine-hole course. a piece he has played almost daily for decades. As an employee, it was management’s dream. He never hit a budget that he couldn’t exceed. When he covered Jazz for the News, he used to plan where he was going to stay and the cars he was going to rent for the entire season ahead – in July, when he could do better business. No place was too cheap. I think he’s in the Motel 6 Hall of Fame.

But his strong point was his encyclopedic knowledge of Utah sports. I am convinced that no one is his match. If he continued Jeopardy and the categories were Utah sports, he would never lose. The institutional knowledge that he takes with him in retirement is immense.

Fittingly, Kurt’s report on Ladell Andersen’s life was one of his last articles for the Tribune. It was vintage Kragthorpe, stuffed with concise insider information you wouldn’t get anywhere else. As this paragraph shows:

He accepted the USU coaching job in 1961 and posted a record 173-96 (.643) in 10 seasons, coaching star players Wayne Estes, Cornell Green, Shaler Halimon, Marvin Roberts and Nate Williams. Since the Andersen era, the USU hasn’t produced a player who has spent a lot of time in the NBA.

I’m sure he would have treated David Stern’s life story the same, if Kurt hadn’t left the building already. Either way, Utah sports will go on without him making headlines, but it won’t be the same.


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