Out of its 2.7 million population as of 2017 and 2016, 86 percent of Utah inhabitants are white while only 1 percent is black or African American, per suburbanstats.org. With the state being predominantly white, it would not be surprising for any African American NBA player to have at least some hesitation in joining the Utah Jazz.
However, in a piece by Marc J. Spears for The Undefeated, the author was able to shed some light on how racial inequality was never an issue for previous and current players in Salt Lake City.
Current Atlanta Hawks power forward Paul Millsap was drafted by the Jazz in the second round of the 2006 draft. At first, he had zero knowledge about the city he was going to call home for the next seven years of his career. However, he was welcomed by the people with open arms and now he has nothing but good memories about his former place of residence.
“Before I went, I knew nothing about Salt Lake City,” said Millsap. “I didn’t even know where it was on a map. I remember getting out there and people greeting me. It was an amazing time.”
“To get traded to Utah, that was a big culture change,” explained the Atlanta native. “A lot of people in Atlanta heard of Utah, but they don’t know nothing about Utah. It was a big culture change and a big change for me in general … “I was like, Utah? I didn’t know anything about Utah. What was out there or what to do out there. I didn’t know about the culture or the people. I didn’t know anything about Utah.”
It was a different case for former Jazz Bryon Russell. Being selected by Utah in the second round of the 1993 draft, he was more concerned about cementing his place in the team as opposed to the challenges he may face in the city.
“When I first got there is when my school [Long Beach State] went out there to play Utah State. I was like, ‘Man, I hope I never come out there again. There was nothing to do out here.’ The next thing I knew, ‘The Jazz draft Bryon Russell with the 43rd pick.’ I was jumping for joy. I forget every word I said. I was like, ‘I’m happy as hell to be out here.’ ”
Utah is considered as a small-market team and presently still struggle to attract big-name free agents. However, stories such as these will definitely work in their favor as they look to sign a big name this summer should star forward Gordon Hayward decide to walk away after his current deal expires at the end of this season.