Private Eye: Good Nyet, Andrei 

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It’s hard to enjoy Utah’s sports columnists. Well, except for Brad Rock. He’s the best around here and his name pretty much lends itself to the sports pages in the first place. The best nationally is Rick Reilly, who writes a weekly column in Sports Illustrated and is the considered the gold standard among modern sports columnists. And he manages that by never writing about sports at all, but about people. Reilly is a master at weaving a tale, looping in an intangible, and finding a relevant cultural or historical reference to spice up his work. His stories make you laugh. His stories make you cry.

The only time I’ve ever cried while reading the local sports pages was when I spilled my Cocoa Puffs on an appropriately revealing picture of Anna Kournikova. The only time I ever laughed while reading the local sports pages was when I noticed where two of those Cocoa Puffs landed. Thank goodness I wasn’t eating Cheerios. That’s not to say there isn’t unintentional humor on those pages now and again. Local sports reporters sometimes make references to the University of Utah having a football “team.” That’s incredibly funny.

In the early tallies, God had penciled in Utah for a championship season in 2007. Then, as I wrote a few weeks ago, someone in the Utah ticket office pooped all over City Weekly, and God changed his mind. The ticket office told us our tickets (that we had held since the Civil War) would not be available to us any longer and that they were going in “another direction.” No points against UNLV last week? That’s another direction, all right, and just one more indicator of why you shouldn’t mess with God or City Weekly.

God doesn’t pencil in BYU for anything. It’s ink only for the Team Down South. As well it should be—rock solid for the boys in blue, just like the jaw of their stoic, humble and Testimonial Sunday sounding coach, Bronco Mendenhall. I had lots of requests for the BYU tickets I bought and promised to give away at the start of the season. But many folks said that while they were pissed also at the University of Utah ticket office, they couldn’t bear to go to a game at BYU under any circumstance. Even some BYU fans told me that.

At any rate, I have two tickets left for the BYU vs. Eastern Washington game on Saturday, Oct. 20. If you want them, just send me an e-mail and ask for them. That simple. The only thing simpler would be a quarterback-carry up the middle from the 1-yard line for a touchdown. OK, right. Bad analogy. Utah tried that against UNLV, only to have the quarterback run into the halfback and then fall for a loss. On fourth down. Happens all the time, you say? No, it doesn’t—not to “teams,” anyway.

There’s no “team” in Kirilenko, either. He says he doesn’t want to play in Utah any longer. He says Jerry Sloan makes him miserable and that Sloan not only took his confidence away but that Sloan cannot give it back. He says Utah Jazz fans (at least the Gordon Monson camp of Sloan baiters and haters, plus those who don’t know a jump shot from a jumpsuit) will understand. He says he’d rather play in Russia. If there’s a way for the Jazz to get a good deal out of this, they should wish Kirilenko good-nyet.

Kirilenko became an NBA all-star under Sloan and Jazz tutelage and investment, so this is some thank you, not even counting the maximum salary Kirilenko is paid by the Utah Jazz. He might even earn it if Carlos Boozer weren’t around. Or Mehmet Okur. Or Deron Williams. Who would dump any of them in favor of Kirilenko? Kirilenko is a star in that small universe of NBA-caliber players with Russian surnames. Before he ever arrived here, a Russian I met predicted this.

On occasion, we’ve had journalists from various parts of the world visit our offices. About the time the Jazz drafted Kirilenko, a group from the former U.S.S.R. came through—Uzbekistanis, Ukrainians and Russians among them. They had just left the Deseret Morning News offices and looked like they’d been punched in the gut. I asked the translator why and was told that, except for the Communist regime they left behind, they had never seen a group of people who looked so lifeless as those sorry Deseret Morning News folks. So I suggested we hold our meeting at Port O’ Call.

We ordered some vodka, which they wouldn’t drink until they had some bread to wash it down with. So we ordered some bread. It was quite fun. Gradually, the English speakers started speaking English—basically all of them, which was my first exposure to Russian treachery. At about the same time, the mostly Orthodox among them opened their lapels to reveal their Christian crosses. Man, were they glad to see me! Same for the one or two Catholics. The couple of Muslims were more quiet and humble, but agreed that the Deseret Morning News experience left them shaken, too. Flashbacks.

So, I asked, “How ’bout that Utah Jazz? They have Andrei Kirilenko.” The Russian, the one who wanted the bread, just laughed. “Don’t you know he is a Russian?” he asked. “He will fail in the end.” I wanted more information. “Andrei will not go so far from home. It is Russian to fall from high places. He cannot accept success,” he said. Andrei was still bound to his Russian team at the time. When he finally joined the Jazz two years later, and up until recently, I kept thinking that Russian guy at Port O’ Call was wrong. Looks like he wasn’t.

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