Despite playing only twice a season, the Utah Jazz have played many memorable road games against the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets over the years. There was Andrei Kirilenko’s buzzer-beating tip in 2003. There was a 122-115 Jazz shootout in 1998 after which the Jazz were quickly ushered out of the arena following an anonymous death threat against Karl Malone. And of course there was Utah’s 103-92 road victory in 2008 that included a Jerry Sloan ejection – all of which took a backseat to the Carlos Boozer “I’m going to get a raise regardless” postgame quote.
No Jazz/Nets season series was more contentious than 2001-02. On November 21, 2001 – former Ute Keith Van Horn’s -game-winner gave the Nets a 91-90 overtime victory in a game that featured an on-court confrontation between Karl Malone and Nets head coach Byron Scott.
When the two teams met one month later on December 22nd, all eyes were glued to Malone and Scott who had since engaged in a war of words in the media. The Nets were 16-9 and on the way to their first NBA Finals appearance since the merger. The Jazz were playing the second game of a back-to-back and the 5th game in a 5-game/8-day roadtrip.
This time, Karl Malone and the Jazz had the last laugh winning going away 104-90. The 38-year old Malone dominated, scoring 25 of his game-high 31 points in the 2nd-half. At 39, Hall-of-Fame running mate John Stockton was equally brilliant with 15 points (on 6-9 shooting) and 10 assists. 4 Jazz starters scored in double-figures and the Utah bench combined for 34 points – sparked by Russian rookie Andrei Kirilenko. The 20-year old Kirilenko scored 14 points and notched 4 steals and 3 rebounds while his energy sparked Utah to a 31-18 2nd-quarter advantage. After the Nets pulled to within 5 early in the 4th-quarter behind Keith Van Horn’s game-high 24 points, Malone went on a tear scoring 15 of Utah’s 27 4th-quarter points.
While Malone and Byron Scott kept their distance, there were still fireworks in the final minutes of the game. On a fastbreak, Kenyon Martin essentially took a leaping close-fisted swing at Malone’s head while the Mailman was air-born going to the rim. Malone landed hard and Jerry Sloan raced off the bench ready to make Byron Scott’s November incident look like child’s play.
Although the officials and Jazz assistants managed to corral Sloan before he could get his hands on anyone, that didn’t stop a war of words from starting. Although KJZZ cameras failed to capture all of it, the NY Times reported Sloan “stormed the court and started yelling at Martin” while the Daily News wrote “furious Utah coach Jerry Sloan stormed onto the court and exchanged heated words with the second-year Nets forward as both had to be restrained.”
Martin would be ejected for a flagarant-2 while Malone further demonstrated his indestructibleness, getting up to shoot the free throws before finishing the game by scoring 4 more points in the final minute.
Following the game, the Jazz weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure of Martin’s play – which also included a similar foul when Martin violently striked Donyell Marshall in the head from behind in the 2nd-quarter.
- Bryon Russell said there was “No doubt in my mind” that Martin’s foul was a cheapshot, while also hinting K-Mart may have been taking orders. When asked from who, Russell replied “I don’t know. Use your imagination.”
- “Our team has been considered a dirty team for a long time – and I don’t recall anybody going in a situation like that,” added Jerry Sloan.
- Malone, when asked how many games would he be suspended had he been the one who committed the flagrant foul responded by saying ”Probably four or five games, at least.”
- John Stockton of course took the high-road saying “He’s (Martin) the only one who can tell you if it was intentional.“
The Nets rallied around Martin, with Jason Kidd saying “I think he was trying to make a play on the ball,” and Scott attributing it to “a lot of buildup with our guys, and Kenyon was frustrated.”
Nets rookie Richard Jefferson offered up the most laughable defense, saying “It was a hard foul that Kenyon put on him [but] I think there was a lot of acting. If you look at [the Jazz] they set hard screens and they want to flop every time you hit them. Karl Malone should be the last person to ever complain about a hard foul.” Strong words coming from someone who went scoreless in 15-minutes of play while shooting 0-2 and posting a +/- of -20.
Ultimately, Kenyon Martin was suspended for one game and fined $50k – on which then Nets president (and former NBA vice president) Rod Thorn embarrassingly complained, saying he felt the punishment was too harsh.
Nearly a dozen years later, we know the answers. Kenyon Martin has carved out a journeyman career as a thug who could could do little more than emphatically dunk a basketball and the NBA has heightened its punishment and enforcement to the point players nowadays don’t even come close to committing hard fouls resembling as bush-league as K-Mart’s.
Perhaps the best perspective on the foul came from Andrei Kirilenko’s post-game interview, where the 20-year old rookie said in broken-English that Kenyon Martin “should come and say he’s sorry, instead of coming and saying ‘F—‘ you.'”
Tonight the familiar faces of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kirilenko will again be involved in a Jazz/Nets game. He may be a Net now, but Andrei Kirilenko will never feel like the opponent. And if that makes me a bad Jazz fan, please allow me to come and say I’m sorry, instead of coming and saying…well you know.