I’m grateful to have grown up in the same city as the Utah Jazz. While they have yet to win a world championship, the story of the NBA can not be told without them. Larry H. Miller, Jerry Sloan and others have created a culture that has been emulated by many. Here is my version of the franchises 25 best players. I’m only factoring in each guys time playing for the Jazz (including New Orleans).
#25- MATT HARPRING (474 games) Harpring was a hard-nosed player who brought stability with 15 footers off of a curl play. Matt enjoyed irritating Carmelo Anthony.
#24- BRYON RUSSELL (628 games) Bryon was the 45th overall pick in 1993. His 32 minutes a game in a ton of post season contests is why he beat out Donyell Marshall and John Drew for this spot on the list.
#23- RICH KELLEY (497 games) Kelley’s most productive year for the Jazz came with him scoring 15.7 points. He was also second in the NBA in rebounds (12.8) and eighth in blocked shots (2.1).
#22- GAIL GOODRICH ( 182 games) After an excellent career, Gail played his last three seasons in New Orleans. He could still fill it up. His best ever field goal shooting (49.5 percent) came with the Jazz in 1977-78.
#21- TRUCK ROBINSON (125 games) Len “Truck” Robinson made his time with the Jazz count. He averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds in his two seasons in New Orleans. The 6’7″ Robinson was invited to the All Star game in 1978.
#20- DERRICK FAVORS (478 games) Favors is a stout presence protecting the paint. He has also has shown value at center. Derrick has very good hands and continues to seem like an x factor in the team’s success.
#19- AL JEFFERSON (221 games) Al Jefferson will not go down as the biggest of names in basketball circles. With that said, Al could score and rebound in any city. In three campaigns with Utah, he dropped 18.5 points and pulled down 9.5 boards a night.
#18- DONOVAN MITCHELL (55 games) Mitchell has arrived! Mature. Playmaker. Clutch player. His rookie awards won’t mean much long-term. This guy will end up in the Hall of Fame.
#17- MEHMET OKUR (474 games) Memo once put on a two month run of clutch shooting that would have made Larry Bird blush a little.
#16- JEFF MALONE (279 games) Malone had a remarkable ability to score, falling backwards. In his four years in Utah, Jeff shot 88.1 percent from the free throw line.
#15- PAUL MILLSAP (540 games) Paul was another drafting gem the Jazz can be proud of (47th overall in 2006). He’s the classic lunch pail player who has turned into a low-level NBA star.
#14- THURL BAILEY (708 games) Thurl was consistent. Old reliable. He was one of the best sixth men of his generation. Over the 1988 and 89 seasons he scored 19.5 points a night. Bailey made himself available in the community and fans in Salt Lake City love the man.
#13- RUDY GOBERT (301 games) The impact he makes on an NBA game is quietly all time great. The skill and the wingspan are outrageous. Rudy’s intense desire to compete is why the franchise trusts him.
#12- GORDON HAYWARD (516 games) In his seventh season in Utah, Hayward grew into one of the 25 best players in the world.
#11- RICKEY GREEN (606 games) I can still hear Hot Rod Hundley yelling, “the fastest of them all.” Green had three straight steals seasons of 2.3, 2.8, and 2.7 per game.
#10- CARLOS BOOZER (354 games) In May 2007, Carlos scored 35 points, and grabbed 14 rebounds in a game 7 at Houston. He also had memorable big game battles with Gasol and Odom where he held his own. I would often watch Boozer from 20 feet away. His high arcing baseline jumper was automatic.
#9- ANDREI KIRILENKO (681 games) “AK-47” was an exotic talent. He was like an elastic band being shot out of a cannon. Kirilenko’s help defense and shot blocking made him a league wide stand out. Some of his all around talents, left him in statistical categories only he and Hakeem Olajuwon share.
#8- DARRELL GRIFFITH (765 games) The 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year, Griffith was an offensive star for five seasons before an injury. Darrell and his chain were 1980’s cool. His athletic play and rainbow jumpers are a popular memory in Jazz lore.
#7- MARK EATON (875 games) He was never appreciated by Jazz fans while he was active. Mark was the Defensive Player of the Year twice, and made five All-Defensive teams. He led the NBA in blocks four times. Eaton’s 5.6 rejections per game in 1984-85 is the best shot blocking season in NBA history.
#6- JEFF HORNACEK (477 games) His handles made Stockton’s life easier. Jeff’s sweet passing was over shadowed by his ability to shoot. Hornacek had the gift of ridiculous, crafty shot making.
#5- DERON WILLIAMS (439 games) For a small window of time, Williams was the best point guard in the NBA. I always trusted his outside shot. Deron’s level in Utah, landed him on the Olympic “Redeem Team” in 2008.
#4- PETE MARAVICH (330 games) Arguably the most important model of showmanship the game has ever seen. “Pistol Pete” added an artful texture to basketball’s history. It’s awesome he played for the Jazz.
#3- ADRIAN DANTLEY (461 games) AD would spin the ball in his hands, rock you to sleep, and score buckets for a living. He averaged 29.6 points on 56.2 percent shooting from the floor in his Jazz career. Dantley carried the Jazz organization before they were a true contender.
#2- JOHN STOCKTON (1,504 games) I loved to watch John think the game. His decision-making was so good, it seemed tangible. Most would be surprised John scored just under 20,000 points and hit 51.5 percent of his field goals. Stockton crushed bigger people’s bodies fighting through screens for two decades.
#1- KARL MALONE (1,434 games) “The Mailman” led the Western conference in scoring six times. Malone may be the best player ever, without a ring. Red Auerbach said of Karl, “He’s a 6’9″, 260 pound monster, who runs the break like a deer.”
It was only 26 months ago. Kobe Bryant’s final game was a bit more than another one of his gems. I know this is a guy who has played in the NBA Finals for a living. He’s bailed out a team in an Olympic gold medal game. He once scored 55 points in a half. Because of some unique circumstances, I believe this was the finest moment of his illustrious career.
These are the factors I’m considering:
WHO WERE KOBE AND THE LAKERS IN 2016?
The Lakers were horrible. This was a 16-65 group stuck in mud. Kobe had his moments that year. Just moments. There were eight or nine games where he played very well. Facts are his body was shot from injury and basketball mileage on his legs. He had become what I’d feared most…a gunner who could no longer shoot well. Bryant’s efficiency was disgusting for an NBA starter. Two days before his last game, he shot 4-12 and scored 13 points at Oklahoma City. He sat after 19 minutes with his body covered in bandages and ice. This had become a typical scene.
THE UNIQUE STAGE THIS GAME PROVIDED
Not everyone knows whether or not it’s their last game. In this case, we all knew for the majority of the season when Kobe would lace them up one more time. If healthy, he would finish April 13th 2016, in Los Angeles playing Utah. As the date approached it was obvious this was going to be an epic happening. This was a rare, high-profile evening built around seeing a specific player in a swan song. The stage was bigger than the game. It was like the Oscars at a pro basketball game. It felt like the Super Bowl of Kobe.
THE LAKERS OPPONENT THAT NIGHT
The Utah Jazz had known for just a short while that they had been eliminated from the playoff race. With injuries and resting guys, this was certainly a short-handed Utah team. It’s still the Utah Jazz. They are one of Kobe’s fiercest rivals and are well coached by Quin Snyder. This crew from Salt Lake City handed Bryant his biggest ever loss just two weeks earlier. Utah rocked the Lakers by 48 points while Kobe scored one lonely bucket. Utah and L.A. fans agree, this matchup is always personal.
MY EXPECTATIONS FOR KOBE IN THE FINALE
The scenario I’d hoped for Bryant was to score 21 points on poor shooting. I thought the Jazz would win by 16 or 17. My biggest goal as a fan, was that he did not embarrass himself. We learned later, that Shaq (sitting court side) challenged him to score 50.
HOW KOBE PLAYED AND HOW THE GAME TURNED OUT
Number 24 came out swinging and missed his first five field goal attempts. The Jazz were controlling the game and it looked like a familiar sight for these Lakers. Bryant kept firing like never before and something awesome happened. Things went from everyone wondering how many points he would score in this loss, to the realization that he had pushed the Lakers to a stunning come from behind victory.
In the last three minutes of the game he scored 15 points hitting his final five shots, four free throws and added a dime. In total he scored 60 points (38 in the second half), had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal. He out scored the Jazz himself in the fourth quarter 23-21. With intense pressure to perform, he was prime Kobe because the occasion called for it.
WHY THE IMPACT OF THIS GAME IS EXTRA SPECIAL
I’m not being a prisoner of that last moment. I saw Kobe play more than 1,300 times. He’s done way bigger and badder things over his journey. There was something different about this one. Did you see Kobe at the podium after the game? He was giddy like a child at recess, but he was in actual shock. Even with all the player has done, knowing he had a group of guys spoon-feeding him shots, he could not believe how things had turned out. It was like the “sports Gods” doing a major favor, for a guy that did not need one.
I knew Kobe would be a legend the second I saw his eyeballs. He took over a Finals game as just a 21 year old in 2000. Shaq fouled out in overtime and Bryant said, “I got you”. I was not surprised. When he out scored the Mavericks 62-61 through three-quarters in 2005, I felt it brewing the day before. For the first time, this guy did something I did not think he was capable of. I was a “Kobe doubter” for one night and he burned me. I was in shock with you Mamba. People always talk about first impressions. Kobe just proved how you say goodbye matters as well.
On his last basketball breath, in a game that called for him to be high-caliber regardless of circumstance…,he pulled off maybe his smoothest trick. He then got on the microphone, to give a speech that ended with “What can I say-Mamba out!” Even at his worst, Kobe pulled off his best.
We lost one of the world’s great people just over one year ago. As missing him continues and even increases, it’s also getting easier to understand the impact he had on my life. I’m learning to have a friendship with my memories of him. Outside of his loved ones, sports was Rusty’s number one passion. I’m excited to share more of the things that made him tick.
#1-KARL MALONE WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER OF ALL TIME: He used to study Karl on VHS tapes rewinding them over and over. He especially loved Karl’s post moves. Rusty loved his defense and his over the shoulder pass. He would boast “nobody runs the floor and rips down the rim like Karl.” In high school he signed his name Rusty “the mailman” Riggs.
#2- HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO THROW THE BALL IN THE POST: The first time we played in the “Roundball Ruckus” (3 on 3 basketball tournament) I blew our last game. I was being smothered on the perimeter and kept turning the ball over as Russ begged for the ball down low. We lost the game because of this and Russ was pissed. In rare form he gave me a personal jab over me “not being able to make a simple post pass.” It hurt to let him down and needless to say by the next year, I was a master at the variety of ways to pass the ball in the post. I got Rusty the ball, he scored 16 of our 20 points and this time we won. He pushed me with joy and yelled, “that’s how you pass the ball in the post boy!” That moment meant a ton to me. Every time I make a post pass, it’s him.
#3-RUSS HAD AN EXTRA GOOD REASON TO FOLLOW DEREK SMITH’S CAREER: Rusty played on the same field with Derek Smith in ninth grade. Riggs knew exactly how tough and good Derek was from that experience. Rusty watched him play every snap of his high school career. We were blown away how good Derek was at football, especially on defense. After Snow College Derek had gone on to play at Arizona State. One night in 1996 I got a call from Russ saying “Derek Smith is dominating against one of the best teams in the country.” That was when we realized Derek was really on his way. Derek played 12 seasons in the NFL against and with people that were larger than life to Rusty and I. Smith was a starter and one of the best tacklers in pro football. Derek gave Rusty a great deal of inspiration.
#4- HE WAS A DALE MURPHY FAN: Russ took a lot of pride in the fact that Dale Murphy was a Mormon. He would always bring up his back to back NL MVP awards and liked to mention how close he was to being a Hall of Famer. He was annoyed his guy was two home runs short of 400. I spent a couple of hours with Murphy in 2002. He was such a nice guy. I told Dale how much Rusty admired him.
#5- HE LIKED TO SAY GOODBYE TO THE VISITING NBA TEAMS: One of his favorite things to do after going to a Utah Jazz game was watch the visiting team leave on their bus. Russ was a die-hard fan. He would have no problem waiting an hour to catch a glimpse of the players. It wasn’t just him being in awe, he wanted to be close to something he knew he could be a part of as a future media member. He loved that we were flipped off by a member of the San Antonio Spurs.
#6- HE WAS GOOD AT MAKING PREDICTIONS: He seemed to be on fire for about a decade predicting games. It became a bother for me because he would use it as argument leverage. If he didn’t agree with me on something he might go, “look here little Jaybird, you don’t have to watch any NBA playoff games this weekend. I’ll just tell you what will happen and save you the time.”
#7- HE WAS SO HAPPY JARED AND I WORE IDENTICAL SHIRTS: For months Rusty had been anticipating meeting, and playing basketball with my buddy Jared. I can’t remember why, but I ended up making the horrible decision of wearing the same t-shirt as Jared. The shirts had a cartoon face of Michael Jordan. This was like handing Rusty comedy dynamite. For about twelve years he made a phone books worth of jokes over this.
#8- HIS NAME BECAME “RUSS” IN THE HOT SUMMER OF LOUISIANA: When he left on his LDS mission in early 1994, his name was Rusty. In the community of Algiers ( New Orleans) he came away with a different name. He was playing basketball on a hot summer day. Coming from Highland Utah it was culture shock for Rusty and his companion to be the only white people among 25 guys. Rusty described the competition as “unbelievable”. He said the best player there was a 6’8″ black guy who had played at the University of Houston. The guy was cool to Rusty as he dominated everyone. As Riggs started to perform some guys started calling him “Utah.” The stud ball player started calling him “Russ.” He adopted the name from there with pride. It was important for him to earn the respect of these guys.
#9- HE ADORED MARCH MADNESS: He could sense the NCAA Tournament coming each year. He bragged about teachers in high school that would play the tourney on t.v. during class. Rusty would go to the games anytime they would be in Salt Lake City. His biggest selling point was how popular March madness was. I eventually caved to its popularity which made him happy.
#10- HIS WADE/LEBRON ARGUMENT WITH ME BECAME LEGENDARY: It started in the spring of 2006 when I said, “right now Wade is as good as LeBron.” Russ freaked out over my statement. From that time on LeBron James versus Dwyane Wade was a factor in our friendship up until four days before Russ passed away. It would probably rank as one of our eight greatest sports arguments. I had several niche advantages in this debate, but he won this one with the safe choice of James on his side. He would often make remarks like, “Wade in a little back pack on LeBron’s back like Yoda and Luke.”
#11-RUSTY HAD GREAT APPRECIATION FOR MARSHALL FAULK: August 10th, 1992: He was there to witness San Diego State getting their first ever win in Provo. Marshall gutted the Cougars for 299 rushing yards and three scores. That game was burned into Rusty’s memory and he followed Faulk for his entire NFL career.
#12- HE HATED THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: He believed hating the school on the hill was part of his life’s job description. I felt like he put 80 percent of the energy into hating Utah as he did loving BYU. If someone walked by with Utah gear on it’s as if he was smelling an enemy from a strange planet. Utah wins hurt him. Utah losses made him feel great. Utah beating BYU was a nightmare, and beating Utah was like winning the Super Bowl for Russ. When BYU quarterback Max Hall verbally ripped Utah to shreds after a 2009 win, I’ll never forget Rusty’s words. “To say everyone at the University of Utah is classless is obviously not true. It was crazy for him to be so harsh with the microphones in his face. Part of me loves him more for ripping them so bad though.” He was unapologetic for feeling this way about the U of U.
#13- RUSS, HALLOWEEN, AND LAMAR ODOM GO TOGETHER: I have a random but clear memory of Halloween night 2008. I was driving on Redwood Road and on the phone with Russ. We were arguing about Lamar Odom. He claimed Lamar was not going to get any better while I stated he could still improve by a level. We must have gone on about this for an hour. That was the same call in which he told me about his families Halloween tradition to eat donuts and chili. He laughed when I said it was weird yet made perfect sense. Odom went on to get better, but not enough for me to ever bring it up again.
#14- HE HAD TO KNOW THE SCORE NOW: When he was in the rare situation of having to work during a BYU football game, he was not going to wait until later to watch on tape in its entirety. We were broadcasting a football game at Davis High School years ago. BYU was playing at the same time. Every time we went to commercial he yelled “score?” Russ ended up buying a student dinner to keep him updated throughout the night. On the drive home he said he was going to go re watch the game. I asked him if he was sure Ruth had taped it? He said, “bro, she’s a professional at this point.”
#15-HE GREW UP ON NFL FILMS: We always shared common ground here. It makes sense that he loved “NFL Films.” Ed and Steve Sabol captured the art of football in a very romantic light. It was about the sights, sounds, and by far the best view of the National Football League. It’s no surprise Riggs dug this part of pro football. He was a very sentimental person.
#16-HE LOVED HIS GAME DAY ROUTINE: BYU game day Saturday’s were his greatest reward in the life of being a sports fan. He would only allow college football talk on the radio. It’s the only time I remember him never listening to his R&B music. He was feeling joy as he heard scores from other games around the country. He always parked in the same neighborhood. I often said, “are you sure you can park here?” He’d always respond, “my family has been parking here for 25 years dude.” He would often park in tight spaces, weird angles, whatever it took. He was parking in this little semi-circle no matter what.
#17- LAVELL EDWARDS STADIUM WAS HEAVEN ON EARTH TO RUSTY: He always wanted to be there early. We would walk down the North side of the stadium when we arrived. As Russ got near , his religious type experience would begin. You could almost hear “Rudy” music as he would soak in just how happy he was to be there. Russ thought this stadium was a hallowed NCAA beauty and he felt lucky it was like his back yard. He would often go to an intersection to sell an extra ticket. I initially struggled to realize this was legal. He would constantly make fun of me for it. He would go “Jay, scared to cross the road.”
#18- HE WAS NEVER LOYAL TO AN NFL TEAM OVER THE LONG HAUL: He liked the 49ers as a kid and then later on as he followed Steve Young. He spent some time cheering for some of Andy Reid’s Eagles teams. He was never really attached to an NFL team. He knew it would be over load with the energy he put into BYU and Utah. The April before he died he claimed, “I guess I’m cheering for the Detroit Lions now.” The Lions had two BYU players ready to make an impact.
#19- BYU OVERMIAMI WAS HIS FIRST BIGGEST WIN AS A FAN: September 28th 1990: Rusty was there to see his Cougars beat the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes 28 to 21. On his mission tape in 1995 he describes this day. “At the time I’d never been so pumped up for a game. When Miami came onto the field with all their glory and cockiness I got a rush and lost a little breath. Ty threw for 406 yards, and we beat them! I’ll never forget the embrace with my dad and just going crazy. This was my “1984.”
#20- RUSS WAS VERY GOOD AT BASKETBALL: American Fork High School had a large student body and was one of the best basketball schools in the state of Utah. He was in the last group of five guys that did not make the varsity team his senior year. He was a star on his “city league” team. Of the 20 or so people we hung out with over a few year window, he was the best player of the group. He was a solid defensive player, but awesome on offense. Bigger guys who would play physical (i.e. Alan Owens and Kevin Franson) could give him fits, but Russ scored points. He had several pet moves in the post including a tricky hesitation drive he was proud of. He could shoot outside and developed three-point range in his early twenties. An inside player who would get hot shooting outside is nice. Remember that he was six feet four inches tall. Rusty scored buckets. He got hot and usually stayed hot. I was very proud of the basketball player he was.
#21- HE WAS ABLE TO INTERVIEW JERRY SLOAN: While working for the ‘”Davis County Clipper” Russ had the opportunity to interview Jazz legend Jerry Sloan. Jerry is a hard-nosed man and I was curious to ask Russ what his first question was? He said, “right before I opened my mouth I thought don’t say anything stupid, think defense.”
#22- RUSTY SPENT MANY HOURS TALKING ABOUT TONY ROMO: Because of my interests, Russ spent more time talking about Tony Romo than I’m sure he would have chosen to otherwise (Steve Riggs and Dan Merrill got a taste of these talks). Russ was a master at arguing. He knew how to jab me with Tony’s failures but keep me on board by praising his talent. The last play Russ saw Romo make was a season saving, fourth down pass to beat the Redskins in 2013. Russ text me, “and with a hurt back? That’s pretty impressive Tony.”
#23- A LOOK AT THE LAST 3 BYU FOOTBALL GAMES HE WATCHED: The last home game he saw was a 59-13 victory over Idaho State. The last regular season game was a 28-23 win at Nevada. The last BYU football game he ever saw was a 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl. The game was December 27th, 2013. When BYU lost it hurt Russ. At 38 years old he had gotten good at knowing how to handle it.
#24- RUSS WAS AN ALLEN IVERSON FAN: He didn’t love him right away. Over time he saw a guy tough enough to live diving on the floor, and brash enough to take on Jordan. Russ was mesmerized by Iverson’s quickness. He backed him the entire way during his 2000-2001 MVP season.
#25- HE BAILED ME OUT AT DAVIS HIGH SCHOOL: He and I were broadcasting a High School football game on TV. He got several of these little gigs over a few year period and always asked me to join in. This was being taped beforehand and would be played later in the night. We had to do a shot of ourselves on the sideline before we went up to the booth. I kept screwing it up. I was stumbling on the line and messed up for the third straight time. I walked away in disgust as the camera guy seemed a bit surprised. Russ bumped me and said, “compared to what you have done, this is like goofing off in the back yard. This is too easy for you bro. You got this.” I calmed down and made it happen. His support was like a jolt of excitement. As the play by-play guy he nailed his job like always.
I miss my brother Rusty. He was born 40 years ago today. I’m thinking of all of you who loved him. At this time of year he and I would be talking and arguing with each other every day about the NBA. Sports were everything to him. I dedicate this piece to his children Madalyn, Jayden, and Samantha.
#1 DON CRIQUI WAS HIS FAVORITE FOOTBALL ANNOUNCER: He had attachment to Paul James and Greg Wrubell. He really liked Keith Jackson. His favorite announcer was Don Criqui. While Russ was growing up Criqui was a play by play guy for college and pro football. Russ would say, “his voice is classic bro.”
#2 HIS FAVORITESPORTS SHOW WAS “INSIDE THE NBA” ON TNT:He always looked forward to Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley. He developed a sentimental attachment to the show and thought it was a perfect way to end an evening. Russ enjoyed the segment “gone fishin.” He thought Barkley was hilarious and would note how sad he was every year after the last episode.
#3 HE GUESSED RIGHT ON JASON ELAM: Russ told me, “keep your eye on this kicker Jason Elam. I’m not into kickers, but you’d want this guy.”Elam played 15 years in the NFL. He won two rings, played in three pro bowls, and once kicked a 63 yard field goal.
#4 HE HAD TO GO IN THE BYU BOOK STORE NO MATTER WHAT: Before every BYU home game, Russ had to stop in the BYU book store. It didn’t matter if he had a thousand dollars on him or no money at all. He thought it was duty to hang out in this store where people are piled in like sardines. He may buy another t shirt or hat, or he may just exchange something. He would make fun of me on the times I decided not to go in. We would meet in the hall and he would say something like, “Jay, scared of the book store.”
#5 KOBE BRYANT TOOK UP A LOT OF RUSTY’S TIME: Because of his battles with me, Russ was consumed with Kobe Bryant conversations for about 12 years. I can not stress to you how much of his time was spent talking about this athlete. My favorite Russ/Kobe moment came in the middle of the night in the gold medal game for the “Redeem Team.” It was August 24th 2008. The situation was unique because Russ and I were cheering for the same team but we always had personal agendas. His guy LeBron and my guy Kobe were on the floor together late in the game. The game was very close and only a few minutes remained. Russ texts me: “If Kobe is the best player in the world, this is on him.” I wrote, “that’s unreal and unfair of you.” He wrote “GIVE IT TO KOBE.”Bryant did come through as the hero in the end with multiple buckets, and Team USA won the game. It was classic Russ to hedge his bets. He had him self set up that if Kobe was the hero he could say, “See, told you Kobe should shoot.” But if Kobe failed he could prove how serious the failure was. We fought about Kobe to no end. This was one of few I felt like I won.
#6 TY DETMER WAS HIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL HERO: Rusty took that Heisman trophy personal. In his room he had a blue “Heisman Ty” on his wall. He claimed he was a bigger fan of Detmer after three years than I was a fan of Magic Johnson after seven. Russ thought Ty was the greatest college football player of all time.
#7 A NEARLY DROPPED BASKETBALL CARD GAVE HIM COMEDY GOLD: In late 1991 Rusty, Chris, and I were trading sports cards in my room. Chris was trying to walk across the room and fell backwards in clumsy fashion. All Rusty and I saw was a leg and a hand in the air holding up a valuable card. We heard Chris go, “I didn’t drop the card.” Rusty was in tears laughing. You did not want to do anything that Russ would perceive as “uncoordinated.” It was too valuable to his comedy storage. This moment was funny to Riggs the rest of his life.
#8 RUSS SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS TALKING ABOUT THE DALLAS COWBOYS: What I provided Russ in a listening ear for his BYU games, he provided me with his Dallas Cowboys takes and mostly support every morning after Dallas had played. He knew it was my passion so he gave a re cap over several messages every single time they competed over the last 20 years. In the first 10 years of knowing me he was a bit more against Dallas. Being a Steve Young fan was a factor in that. Over the last 10 years he was more supportive regarding my team. I believe it was his way of thanking me for supporting his Cougars.
#9 HE FOLLOWED THE 1993 AMERICAN FORK HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM UP CLOSE: Rusty proudly stood behind the gate right near the field of every game of his senior season. The team was very good on defense and Russ was it’s biggest fan. In class, he would tell the players things to keep them motivated. He always took his teams serious. He had full access to this one.
#10 HE MADE JOHN BECK TALK AND THEN SAID NOTHING: By cool circumstances Russ and I were both assigned to do some interviews after a late summer BYU football practice in 2004. We were interviewing a young John Beck and only Russ and I remained. We turned our recorders off. Russ said to John, “Dude you know your’e better than these guys. I expect to see you starting soon.” Beck went instantly to his level and said, “ya coach has told me in private I’m the guy and I just have to put on a happy face.” As we walked away I told to Russ what a story Beck had just handed us. Russ said, “ya, I’d never do anything to hurt the team.”
#11 HE WAS A BIG PATRICK EWING FAN: He was a “Ewing guy” while I was an “Olajuwon guy”. Russ loved the big mans ability to turn and shoot. He would use a couple of Ewing’s pet moves when he played. We were stoked Patrick and Hakeem went head to head in the NBA Finals in 1994. I came out on top as Olajuwon out dueled Ewing and won in a classic seven game series. Russ (who was a master at any argument) used for the rest of our lives that the battle between those two players meant less in our arguments because Russ did not see it because he was on his mission. If Ewing would have won, it would have counted 100%.(FYI)
#12 LEBRON JAMES WAS HIS FAVORITE NBA PLAYER THE LAST 7 YEARS OF HIS LIFE: Russ called LeBron “the most unselfish super star of all time.” He enjoyed his blend of power and finesse. He also used James as a weapon to battle with me over Wade, Bryant, and even Michael Jordan.
#13 RUSS BELIEVED NCAA FOOTBALL WAS THE BEST, THE BADDEST, PERIOD: He adored college football. He loved the tradition, the names and mascots of the schools, polls, bands, and the rivalries. Even as college football developed more flaws, he would defend it at all costs.
#14 HE WATCHED OSTERTAG OUTPLAY DUNCAN UP CLOSE: Russ sat in the second row as promising big man Greg Ostertag out played future legend Tim Duncan. Rusty always used this as his “every dog his day” example. As the years went on Russ thought it was cool how close up he was to the action.
#15 HE COULD THROW A FOOTBALL: Playing football was not his forte like basketball was. Russ threw a nice football. I saw him many times jump into four on four football games, and play QB for both teams. He would start hot and end hot. He remembered every pass I’ve ever dropped in his presence.
#16 HE BELIEVED BEING AT THE GAME WAS BETTER THAN TELEVISION: He looked at being at the game as a badge of courage. He thought if a fan lived within a reasonable distance of a stadium and had the means to go, there was no excuse to not be there.
#17 RUSS GAVE ME CRAP ABOUT MY “NBA LOYALTY”: He was a true Utah Jazz fan. I’m a fan of individual players. I loved Michael, Hakeem, Wade, Stockton and others so my NBA love is distributed different than most. He thought my thinking here was complete garbage. Two of my favorites are Magic and Kobe so I spent a lot of time invested in the Lakers. He went out of his way to let me know, “you are not a Lakers fan, you are a Lakers observer.”
#18 HE WAS ON THE BLAKE GRIFFIN BANDWAGON FOR THE LONG HAUL: He said early in 2012 “Blake Griffin will be more than a show dunker. He will be a super star, mark my words.”
#19 HE WOULD NEVER FORGET ABOUT MY BAD SPORTS PREDICTIONS: I’ve made so many bad predictions. He remembers them all. I said Brian Griese would be a Hall of Famer. While Griese was a competent pro, I missed badly. Any time in later years Russ did not like what I was saying in an argument he would often go, “what’s that Griese?”
#20 FOR FASHION, EVERY TEAM WAS HIS: Remember his big, poofy Atlanta Falcons coat? How about the Orlando Magic or Howard University cap? He once saw a random Kendall Gill jersey down town he thought about for years. For him to own Lakers shorts screams how un bias he was when it came to fashion.
#21 HIS FAVORITE PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER WAS STEVE YOUNG: Detmer was his favorite pro, but Young was so good Russ had no choice but to become attached to Steve’s journey. Russ knew Steve made BYU look good. He celebrated the 49ers beating the Chargers in the 1994 Super Bowl. It was a huge deal that Steve Young had gotten out of the shadow of Joe Montana. Russ was in sheer joy.
#22 HE WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN LOCAL SPORTS RADIO: Even though Russ was not in awe, he was always so curious of local sports radio happenings. If someone was changing a time slot, or someone new was hired at a station he wanted to know or to tell me. He was like the “TMZ” of caring about it.
#23 IF ATHLETES WERE OUR AGE, HE WOULD FOLLOW THEM: He was bonded to athletes that were our age. It’s like he was tracking his athletic mortality. I often heard the names Alan Iverson, Ray Allen, and Alex Rodriguez as his examples.
#24 HE LOVED A SHOW CALLED “SPORTS BEAT SUNDAY”: It used to come on Sunday nights on channel five at about 1035 pm. It was a 30 minute show that ended with a segment called the “Highlight Zone.” It was hosted by Craig Bolerjack. Russ loved the beginning where Boler would say, “pull up a chair.”
#25 IF YOU MADE HIM MAD, HE WOULD PULL THE “MAILMAN” SIGNATURE MOVE ON YOU: On the basketball court Russ was a pretty calm character. When he got involved in an occasional trash talking session with someone or the competitive juices were extra high, I have a distinct memory. Russ would usually win and in the end of finishing someone off he would put his hand behind his head in cocky fashion before laying the ball in the hoop (like Karl Malone would).
#26 HE CALLEDIT EXACT ON BEN ROETHLISBERGER: In April of 2004 he called and left me a voice mail about Ben Roethlisberger who had just been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. “Hey bro, since we both know you know nothing about college football, I wanted to give you a heads up. Ben Roethlisberger will be a Hall of Famer 10 years into his career.” Russ was right.
#27 A GAME CALLED STRAT-O-MATIC WAS KEY TO HIM: A game he played as a teenager called strat-0-matic helped shape how he judged and rated players. He would play this game with his Father, Spencer Smith, Ryan Standifird, Aaron Ellswood, MiKael Renae, and John and Gavin Jensen. He was way into this game. It was his video game, before video games.
#28 BEATING UTAH WAS ALWAYS IMPORTANT, BUT 2006 WAS HIS FAVORITE: November 25th, Salt Lake City. It was John Beck’s last chance to beat Utah. On an amazing play that seemed to last forever, John Beck hit Harline in the end zone. This was one of the top victories in this rivalry. Russ stayed after the game as long as they would allow him to. He celebrated with the players and said some meaningful things to them. He was happy to admit he cried. This was the victory I heard Russ talk most about.
#29 HE WANTED TO THROW THE BASEBALL WITH HIS SON: In his last couple of years Russ was having health issues. He would say, “I want to play catch my with my son. Baseball and a couple of mitts are all we need.”Russ and I were way more likely to have a football or basketball in our hands. He kept saying “I need to throw a baseball with Jayden.”
#30 HE ATTENDED THE FIRST EVER NBA ALL STAR JAM SESSION AND HELD IT CLOSE IN MEMORY: February 19th and 20th 1993. We left school at 11a.m. on Friday. We picked up my brother Jared Adams on the way to the Delta Center and attended the NBA’s first ever Jam Session weekend. Russ was in NBA heaven! The entire city was everything pro basketball.We met Julius Erving, Will Smith, and Jaleel White (“Steve Urkel”). Most importantly for Russ he met his favorite singer of Boyz 2 Men Shawn Stockman. Rusty said , “I need that second album baby.”Shawn pulled Rusty’s shirt with affection and said, “you gonna love it big boy.”
#31 THE 1992 DREAM TEAM IMPACTED RUSTY: The Summer of 1992 was Rusty’s most memorable summer. The Dream Team was at the center of the sports universe and attracting an entire globe to the game of basketball. We thought it was cool John and Karl were playing with Magic and we could not get enough coverage. We would also collect everything regarding this team. Russ claimed I liked to collect the McDonald’s Olympic cups for “an extra place for Jay to take a leak.” He felt lucky to witness a documentary on the Dream Team that was made in the summer of 2012. It was a nice rarity for him to say some good things about Scottie Pippen.
#32 HE GAVE HIS DAD CREDIT FOR HIS LOVE OF SPORTS: Rusty told me on his mission that his dad was the main reason he loved sports. Initially he brought up going to BYU football and basketball games with him. He went on to say that his dad participated in everything. From attending his games at school or church or playing together, Steve was always part of it.
#33 HE HAD A COOL CONNECTION TO CRAIG BOLERJACK: A few times after BYU basketball games we would wait after the game and talk to TV star Craig Bolerjack. We would get advice from him. The third time we met him it was almost like Russ was saying “I’ll see you in the business someday my friend.” Russ became a TV anchor and always had a soft spot for Boler.
#34 RUSS WAS A SPORTS ANCHOR AND HE WAS AWESOME AT IT: Have you seen Russ do his sports broadcasts in New Mexico? He was as smooth of a pro as you can get. I am so proud when I see him do this work. He was born to do it, and proved it.
#35 HE WOULD END UP IN POST GAME LOCKER ROOMS: As paying fans, Russ used to lead us down to the locker rooms after BYU home games in the Marriott Center. We would literally devise plans, have excuses ready for security etc. We would get down to the locker room and usually come away with a coaches stats sheet and gum that had been intended for players. Years later we spoke of how dangerous that was and that these days you would not get away with it. Russ just wanted to be around it. He loved it so much, just standing where the team had been moments earlier. Of course he did not eat the gum, it was something to remember his memory.
#36 THE LAST NBA GAME HE WATCHED WAS MAY 31st, 2014: The Spurs beat the Thunder 112-107 in overtime. He text me by mocking that Kevin Durant had fallen down and the Thunder had lost. He liked KD, but was programmed to compete with me through our favorite athletes or predictions etc.
#37 HE WANTED TO HEAR MY INTERVIEW STORIES OVER AND OVER: He enjoyed hearing the encounters that I’d had with NBA players. He loved the NBA so much that he had no problem hearing a cool story for the ninth time. He knew me meeting these players was him meeting them as well.
#38 RUSS HAD A NICE RAY CLAY IMITATION: Ray Clay was the public address announcer for the Chicago Bulls. Russ had a staple imitation, “Starting at center, “BIIIILLLLLLL CARTWRIGHT!!!!!!”
#39 HE WAS A FAN OF THE YOUNG VINCE CARTER: When Vince won the February 2000 slam dunk contest Russ called me as hyped as he could be. He was screaming per the air show Carter put on. Russ then adopted Carter to challenge me with two things…The hope Carter could become better than Bryant, and that Carter was a better dunker than Jordan. Russ loved the NBA as much as he loved competing with me.
#40 I REMEMBER A FUNNY THING HE SAID ABOUT MARK JACKSON: I was starting to appreciate Jackson as passer and told Rusty, “I am starting to like Mark Jackson”. He quickly responded, (laughing) “Liking Mark Jackson is the same as liking lettuce. You don’t really need to tell me.”