SALT LAKE CITY — Jae Crowder had already been welcomed back to Salt Lake City with a loud ovation as he was introduced before the game. And he had already shaken hands with his old teammates on the court. But before the game began, he had one last thing he had to do.
Just before the tip, Crowder began to run over to the Utah bench. As he trotted, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder got up and walked out on the court to meet him and the two shared a quick hug.
It was a moment that brought back the memory of Snyder interrupting a walk-off interview following last season's win over the Celtics to embrace Crowder.
“It’s something special,” Crowder said of that moment over a year ago. “I’ll never forget it. Him embracing me in that moment. … Just to feel that love and emotion from him is a good feeling.”
Utah was a special place for Crowder. He had a coach who trusted him, loved him even. He had a fan base that adored his toughness and spirited play. He had teammates that he’ll always refer to as family.
Crowder may have only spent 1 1/2 seasons in Utah but on Saturday, in his first return trip to Utah since being traded to Memphis, it felt a bit like coming home. He was part of two playoff runs with the Jazz and part of what might be the most beloved group of players Utah has had since the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone.
He was happy to see old faces and happy to hear the crowd cheer for him once again.
Crowder was the first one introduced on Saturday — and the crowd showered him with applause.
“Feels good to be back,” Crowder said. “It’s somewhere I feel comfortable with, obviously. Me and the crowd have a good relationship and left on a good note, so it felt good to get an ovation when I came back here.”
Crowder finished with 13 points, three assists and two rebounds in 30 minutes. And he even converted one of his patented 4-point plays. (Seriously, it’s weird how often he gets fouled on made 3s).
Crowder said that playing the Jazz is now like playing against his brothers; and because of that, there is a bit of extra motivation when going up against the likes of Royce O'Neale and Joe Ingles.
“We’re just having fun with it, seeing familiar faces,” Crowder said. “It’s like when you see a brother growing up, you want to play hard against them. You want to beat your brothers. Those are my brothers on the other side, and I just want to play them and get a win. But they played great tonight.”
UTAH! ITS ALL LOVE FOREVER.!! THANK YOU FOR THE WARM WELCOME.! YOURS TRULY 99.!!!! 🙏🏾❤️— JAE CROWDER (@CJC9BOSS) December 8, 2019
Following the game, Crowder stayed out on the court longer than normal talking to his former teammates. He and Ingles shared a laugh, and then he exchanged jerseys with O’Neale.
Crowder was brought to Utah to help bring a force to the Jazz — to help add toughness to a playoff team. He has a slightly different role these days: bringing veteran leadership to a young but promising team.
"He does a great job of rallying the group together,” Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “He’s obviously been through so many battles at the highest levels, and when we first sat down he said, ‘I want to impart that wisdom on our guys.’”
Wisdom that he partially got during his time with the Jazz.