Former Jazz players recall their All-Star memories

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West All-Star Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz (8) brings the ball across center court against East All-Star Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics (9) and Paul Pierce of the Celtics in the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Tim Sharp, Associated Press

As the Utah Jazz continue preparations for hosting the 2023 All-Star weekend and everything that comes with it, the organization is starting to push all of the nostalgia buttons.

On Saturday night they celebrated former Jazz All-Stars Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, and former New Orleans Jazz All-Star Truck Robinson.

Williams, who was a three-time All-Star in 2010, 2011 and 2012, played in the NBA for 12 years and was with the Jazz for just over five seasons. Okur spent 10 years in the league, seven with the Jazz and was an All-Star in 2007. Robinson, a two-time All-Star in 1978 and 1981, played for just under two seasons with the New Orleans Jazz during his 11-year career.

The three former Jazz players talked with local reporters on Saturday night about the upcoming All-Star weekend in Utah, their own careers and what the game looks like today.

Williams was with the Jazz for his first two All-Star appearances (traded shortly after the second one in 2011) and said that he’s looking forward to everything that fans are going to experience in Utah during the Feb. 17-19 weekend.

“I think it means a lot,” Williams said of Utah hosting. “There’s just always a lot of excitement around All-Star break, the All-Star game and the festivities that occur during it. It’s a big deal to be able to host it for the organization, for the fans, for the community of Salt Lake…You’re bringing all the best players in the world to your city at one time.”

As Okur reminisced about his time with the Jazz and his All-Star appearance as an injury replacement in 2007 he said that he was overjoyed just to be included in a celebration that showcased so many talented players.

“Just being there was my favorite part,” he said, while also giving credit to Williams for helping him become an All-Star. “Thanks to this guy right here. This guy carried my butt over the years and my other teammates. It was fun just to share the locker room with all the other superstars and just be there with them was amazing. Obviously I had four points so that I can tell my grandkids I had 40. But four for me is enough.” 

Robinson lamented that the actual All-Star game itself is not as ruthless as it was back in his day.

“It was a lot more competitive,” he said with a laugh. “Guys didn’t easily let you score. It was playing and you’re trying to win. It was a big thing trying to win. I talked about it in the locker room before my first one. I was by Dave Cowens and he was like, ‘Stretch out, stretch out and get ready.’ It was real serious.”

While there are many old-timers who look at the way the NBA game is played in the modern era with some distaste, Okur and Williams both look at the game today and wish that they could have had a chance to play during an era of space and pace.

“This era, what they’re doing, the basketball they’re playing nowadays, it fits my game perfectly and it fits his game perfectly,” Okur said. “We were just talking about it the other day. We could have been deadly if we were playing together (today). But we still did good.”

Mimia Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal of the East All Stars, left, Utah Jazz’s Mehemt Okur, from Turkey, of the West All Stars battle for a rebound during the NBA All-Star basketball game in Las Vegas on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007.

Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press

Williams thought about how much more he could have done if he was given the chance to operate in the same way that shooters are able to now.

“We had the green light back then, but this is different. It’s a different type of green. It’s neon green,” he said. “Coach (Jerry) Sloan didn’t like early 3s, and now that’s all guys are taking and they’re encouraged to take them.”

But both players remember their playing days in Utah fondly and were proud of the teams they’d been on and what they accomplished while they were here.

If there was truly any one thing that was regrettable, it was that Okur was never invited to compete in the 3-point contest at All-Star weekend.

“I cannot believe I never made it” Okur said, shaking his head in disbelief. “They never called and said, ‘You should be here.’”

Though the former players could not say how they would be involved in the All-Star festivities this year or what they knew about the planning, Williams did say that he was cooking up a couple of things and that everyone should be excited about what’s to come.

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