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Professional basketball outfit New Jersey Jazz played in the NBA from 1974 to 1979. They are predecessors to the Utah Jazz who are based in Salt Lake City today. The team’s home games were played at the Loyola University Fieldhouse for the first season and then at the Louisiana Superdome from the second season onwards.
How did the Jazz Start Up?
The team began as an NBA expansion franchise in 1974 becoming the 18th team of the league. The nickname Jazz was picked following a fans contest and refers to the New Orleans City’s status as a hotbed for jazz music. The team’s gold, purple and green home strip was picked as a representation of the popular annual festival, Mardi Gras. The first player to be drafted was Hall of Famer Pete Maravich from the Atlanta Hawks.
The New Orleans Jazz in Competition
The Jazz were by no means a successful team on the court. They lost all their seasons in New Jersey with mediocre records that made them one of the worst teams in NBA history. Their first game was a loss on the road to New York Knicks on October 17th, 1974 in which they scored just 74 points. They had to wait till November 10th for their first win. The Jazz won just 6 of their first 50 games and despite a late resurgence that saw them post a 17-15 record in their last 32 games, they finished last in the NBA with a 23-59 record.
In 1975/76, they improved a bit, recording 38-44 despite their star player Pete Maravich missing 20 games through injury. However this was only enough for fourth place. The following season, they regressed to fifth place with a 35-47 record despite the thrilling form of perennial standout performer Maravich. The Jazz retained fifth in 1977/78 with a 39-43 record. In 1978/79, Maravich missed the entire season and the team fell to last place with a 16-56 record. That eventually proved to be their last season in New Jersey as plans to relocate were announced as soon as the season ended.
New Orleans Jazz Most Notable Moments
In the 1979 NBA draft the Jazz traded their first overall pick, giving up their chance to sign Magic Johnson in order to acquire Gail Goodrich. They also gave up the rights to sign Moses Malone for a first round pick used to sign Goodrich. In hindsight, both of these moves were ill advised with both Johnson and Malone blossoming into Hall of Famers in later years while Goodrich spent a few injury-laden years in New Orleans.
The decision to move the team in 1979 was met with acrimony by New Jersey fans and some players. Maravich was quoted as saying “if I’m in a situation [to win] the championship, anything I do…whether the team’s in Salt Lake or not, I’ll do it personally for the city of New Orleans.”
They were further outraged by the team’s refusal to drop the “Jazz” nickname and team colors which had all been specifically chosen to represent New Orleans. The animosity continues to this day with some fans in New Jersey claiming the Utah Jazz’s near misses for the NBA title will only abate when they give up the name and strip.
New Orleans Jazz Most Notable Players
Pete ‘Pistol Maravich’ was the standout performer for the Jazz. He led the team in scoring for four of the five seasons they were in New Jersey, only missing the last one through injury. During the 1976/77 season, he led the league in scoring with 31.1 ppg and consistently posted in the upper 20s. Aside from his scoring prowess, Maravich was known for his showmanship, shooting from all over the court and always preferring an entertaining pass over a simple one.
Leonard ‘Truck’ Williamson played two seasons, 1977-1979 for the Jazz having signed from the Atlanta Hawks. In 1977/78 he led the NBA in rebounds per game (15.7), total rebounds (1,288) and minutes played (3,638) and also made a career best 22.7 ppg. He earned the nickname ‘Truck’ due to the way he used his rugged body combined with intelligent play to get the better of his opponents when attacking.
Other notable players for the Jazz include Gail Goodrich and Walt Bellamy.
What Happened to the New Orleans Jazz?
Despite poor performance, the Jazz attracted decent crowds to their home games. However, high taxation and low corporate interest in the team undermined the team’s bottom line. Another issue dogging the club was the high demand for the Louisiana Superdome by other sports team and the annual Mardi Gras festival which meant they had to play some of their home games away from home. The announcement by owner Sam Battisone that the team would be moving to Utah surprised fans and was heavily opposed. However, there was little they could do and the team relocated to Salt Lake City becoming the Utah Jazz. In 2002, New Orleans got a new NBA franchise when the Hornets relocated from Charlotte.