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Monson: Greg Ostertag has learned from his substantial Jazz regrets

Published February 24, 2017 5:46 pm

Ostertag has grown up after basketball, and can't wait to reconnect with Jazz.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Greg Ostertag has gone and grown up.

It's a couple of decades too late to help the Jazz, but there should be some satisfaction in knowing the enigmatic man who played center for the team during its best seasons, back when he regularly wrangled with Jerry Sloan and once said aliens had kidnapped him, along with other inexplicable goofiness, looks back at his experience in Utah with happiness in his heart, substantial personal regret and a whole lot of appreciation.

On account of the Jazz announcing a 20-year reunion for their 1997 Western Conference championship team set for March 22, with the Jeff Hornacek-coached Knicks in town to face the Jazz, Ostertag took some time earlier this week to talk with Spence Checketts, Craig Bolerjack and me during our radio show on 97.5/1280 The Zone.



He started the interview with an insult, a laugh, and he ended it with a tribute to Sloan that backed up the plumbing in his own eyes and made everyone else's eyes feel dusty, too.

"Hey, Gordon," he said. "I'm out here with cows, chickens and donkeys, and I named one of the donkeys after you."

"It's the smartest one, right?" I said back.

"No, it's the dumb one that always runs into the fence," he said.

Ostertag is a cruel, cruel man now.

No, no, he is not.

He is a man with perspective, taught through and by the years between then and now that his time with the Jazz was pretty darn good, the winning was good, the opportunities on the floor were good, the mentorship was good.

"It was so much fun," Ostertag said. "The only thing we didn't do right was win [the championship]. I'm honored because I got to play with two of the best ever. They should be honored because they got to play with me."

He laughed when he said that, too.

One other thing that wasn't right: Ostertag's approach to the game.

"The thing I've learned now that I'm older and wiser is that all those times Jerry was yelling at me, it wasn't his fault, it was my fault. [John Stockton and Karl Malone] were two guys who came to work every day. They worked hard at practice, on their own, in the summertime, you're never going to find anyone who worked as hard as Karl did. … If any young player wanted to follow any players, it would be those two. Great work ethic."

He wasn't one of them.

"I was young and dumb," Ostertag said. "I thought I knew everything."

He added: "I've got a lot of regret in my life. One of them is not being the player for those guys that I could have been and should have been, taking for granted that I was 7 foot, and only being as good as I was, not being better. Bobbye Sloan and John and Karl used to tell me, 'If Jerry wasn't yelling at you, he didn't care about you.' At times, I thought he cared a little too much.

"Looking back, I blew that. … I know Jerry only wanted the best for me."

Ostertag recalled he was asked back then, over and over, why he couldn't play consistently well, as well as he did in playoff games against Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal, and he couldn't find an answer to that question. Now, he said, "I just didn't have the work ethic I needed to have."

He said he doesn't watch much pro basketball anymore because "they don't play the game the way we did 20 years ago. … We would out-execute people." He retold the Shaq story when O'Neal pushed Ostertag to the floor at a Jazz shoot-around before a season-opener against the Lakers, knocking out his contact lens in the process. He said the highlight of his time with the Jazz was the win at Houston when Stockton hit the big shot to send the club to the NBA Finals: "That was phenomenal. … You never saw a lot of reaction out of Jerry, as far as a win, to see him throw his arms in the air and be jubilant was something."

Near the end, Ostertag was asked which of his former teammates on the 1997 Jazz he was most looking forward to seeing. He said he was eager to see them all. "But I'm most excited …"

He paused for a few seconds to gather himself.

"… I'm most excited to see Jerry, because I love him to death. … [tears now flowing] … And I hate to see what he's going through, 'cause that's not the Jerry Sloan that I knew, and I know it's tearing him apart. … [more tears] … I've tried to call him on the phone a few times, but I can't. I get emotional. I know we had our ups and downs, but I love him. It kills me to see him like that."

Sloan is suffering from Parkinson's and Lewy body dementia .

Ostertag continued.

"The great thing about Jerry, no matter what happened the night before, the next day, he was like, 'Good morning.' He gave you a high-five and 99 percent of the time, it was over. There were times when it carried over, but my fault, I'll take the blame for that."

When all the talking/laughing/crying/therapy was done Tuesday, Ostertag said: "And Gordon, I'll take a picture of my ass and send it to you."

My response: "I've already seen your ass."

He chuckled again.

"Have a good one, boys," he said.

Same to you, 'Tag. See you in March.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.

 

 

 

 

 

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