Deseret News archives: Improbable story of Jazz arrival in Utah from New Orleans

Chamber Board of Governors President Wendell Ashton, with Tim Grandi, left, and owners Sam Battistone and Larry Hatfield in Salt Lake City on June 12, 1979. The Chamber sold enough season tickets ahead of time to convince the Jazz to move from New Orleans.

A look back at local, national and world events through Deseret News archives.

“The City of New Orleans has a long tradition of jazz funerals, but Saturday it is holding a Jazz funeral.”

So read the news reports out of New Orleans on June 9, 1979, after it was announced that the NBA Board of Governors had voted unanimously the evening before to approve moving the 5-year-old franchise to Salt Lake City.

Team owners Sam Battistone and Larry Hatfield told the NBA board it had lost $2.8 million in its final season in Louisiana, and had never broke even.

In Salt Lake City, the mood was different as the Deseret News heralded the change as a big deal in the Intermountain West.

Comments from NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien, Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson and Chamber of Commerce President Wendell Ashton praised state and city leaders and the Salt Palace where the team would play.

Fans clamored for tickets, which Hatfield said would cost $9 and $6. New general manager Frank Layden said he hoped to name a new coach by June 25, the date of the NBA player draft, and among the names discussed were Tom Nissalke and Phil Johnson.

For the record, Nissalke became the coach, Johnson eventually became one of the most beloved members of the Jazz coaching staff, and Utah went 25-58 that first season. Among the top players were Pete Maravich, Ron Boone and Kent Benson.

The Jazz almost left Utah in the early 1980s, but the Larry H. Miller family assumed ownership and made significant, lasting commitments to the team and community. Layden eventually took over as coach and Utah accomplished its first winning season in 1983.

Pete Maravich, New Orleans Jazz, 1979, in his last year in New Orleans before moving to Utah for the 1979-80 season. The 1978 New Orleans Jazz uniform continued to look the same after the move to Utah in 1979. | TIM ALEXANDER

Prices went up as well, but the Jazz remain a popular Utah institution. Here are archived stories related to Utah Jazz history:

40 short years ago, Jazz came to Utah

25 years later the Jazz are going strong

Utah Jazz: Disaster of a pick

37 anonymous years — and one mistake

Utah Jazz: Team name still draws snide remarks

A look at every jersey the Utah Jazz have worn

End of an era for the Utah Jazz, but thanks to Miller family, what a golden era it was

And here’s a fun comparison from comparing the Jazz and Utah’s new hockey squad:

The similarities behind the Jazz and Coyotes relocations nearly 45 years apart