SALT LAKE CITY -- Even the Utah skies were crying on Monday, as rain poured throughout Salt Lake City. Fans stood in long lines outside the EnergySolutions Arena, ignoring the blaring radio station vans that invited them to spin roulette wheels to win shirts and CDs and movie tickets. But that's all there was. The massive party that always blocks streets around the arena when the Jazz make the playoffs -- even when they're not at home -- was nowhere to be found this time.
There was an overriding gloom, a sad sense of the inevitable, starting even days before. The day's headline, topping the front page of the local newspaper's sports section cried out "All hope is lost." The most exuberant fans, the ones grinning widest as the doors finally opened, were the ones wearing Lakers shirts.
"It will be a sea of yellow out there tonight," said one arena official.
Another sea -- of scalpers -- stood under umbrellas and waved tickets at people passing by. The tickets were being sold for less than their face value. Even so, they were not selling fast. Candice Walters thought she knew why. "It's Monday, and the Jazz are down 3-0, so Jazz fans aren't wanting to pay to watch the Jazz lose," she said. Close to tip-off, Walters had sold only 30 tickets. As game-time drew closer, the rain came harder, and she finally rolled up her Jazz-imprinted umbrella and went home.
In the old days, Karl Malone would rev his monster truck named "Power Forward" along special barricades on the edge of the crowded arena plaza, bucking it up on its hind wheels. Late Jazz owner Larry Miller, who died last year, would make an appearance. Free sodas and ice cream would be given out to the multitudes who came to party, even if they weren't going to the game. There was a giant TV for fans to watch the game and cheer. It was always typical Utah: lots of noisy enthusiasm, lots of kids, no drunks.
But on Monday, the plaza had no partiers. A rock band played under the arena overhang, while outside in the rain, near the entrance door, the Laker jersey-clad "sweepers" worked out with yellow brooms.
"The brooms signify our sweep of the Utah Jazz. We're going to win it right here." said Trevor Fredericks of Idaho. "I've loved the Lakers since the day I was born. When I was born, they put me in a Lakers blanket. That was the first thing that touched me." He swore that no Jazz fan had been seriously nasty to him so far. But soon, an arena official stalked up and confiscated all the brooms, much like a teacher snagging a student's contraband.
Adolf Cuevas and Miles Day, also wearing Lakers shirts, boogied beside the band, who were all wearing Jazz shirts. But Cuevas and Day, both from Los Angeles, had no fear. "We're not taking a chance wearing a Lakers shirt here. It's Utah, after all."
The ticket-checker at the door said, "It's been the calmest playoffs of any I can remember." It just may be that any desire to fight disappears when defeat is accepted.
Still, as fans rushed inside to escape the rain, there was one small sign of hope in the Utah skies. A vivid rainbow arched over the arena, reminding everyone that even though things look gray right now, there's always next year.