When Philips Arena opened for the 2000-2001 season, the Atlanta Hawks held a great event before the season started, inviting their season ticket holders to come in, ask some questions of then GM Pete Babcock and then coach Lenny Wilkens about the upcoming season.
During that offseason the Hawks were "rebuilding" after getting swept in the second round by a seemingly way more athletic New York Knicks team. Gone were mainstays Mookie Blaylock and Steve Smith, and in were Jim Jackson, Isiah Rider and a first round draft pick with a championship pedigree from the University of Arizona.
I can still remember seeing Jason Terry, all of 22 years old, leaning against the wall of one of the club level restaurants, looking surprisingly shy during the proceedings. It maybe the only time in the (5) seasons I either watched or covered Jet that he wasn't grinning from ear to ear or emoting something strong from a recent bitter sting of defeat.
There were a lot of things to like about Terry during his time in Atlanta: the picture perfect jump shot, the floaters in the lane, and his willingness to take the big shots---few as there were during his run in Atlanta. He was also notoriously feisty, often being the only Hawk--despite being the smallest most of the time--to stand up for the Hawks physically and getting into fights.
He and the late Lorenzen Wright were fun to watch and watch carry on, such was their youthful vigor and emotional investment into a team that was, at best treading water in the lottery pool despite the presence of veterans like Dikembe Mutombo, Toni Kukoc, Glenn Robinson, and the like.
JT was defined in Atlanta as the point guard that wasn't quite. He was brave enough to want the ball late, but wasn't a strong enough decision maker or ball handler to be the Chris Paul type, leaving him frustrated and miscast as such at times in Atlanta. He was an expert shooter, though, and when the Hawks would run a play that would result in a shot for Jet, he was in a role far more suited for his skill set.
The losing frustrated him so much that after games he would either be so uncertain about how the Hawks could get out of their never ending rut that he would be visibly frustrated or he would disconnect and fall into professional mode, where he would praise the other team for the things they did well on that night, spawning the oft-repeated "you gotta tip your cap to them" chorus that accompanied quite a few game results.
He was so fed up with the lack of positive momentum and organizational malaise that he saw his restricted free agency in 2003 as a way to get out of the doldrums in Atlanta and further his own career. He signed with Utah believing that Jerry Sloan could get more out of him than Lenny, Lon Kruger, or Terry Stotts could, and he was probably right, but he said all the right things when the Hawks matched and Jason was back at Philips arena for 3 more years.
JT was a Hawk only for a season longer before he was swept away in August 2004 as a part of Billy Knight's house cleaning and rebuilding process. Jet was only going into his age 27 year, but didn't fit the multi-functional, multi-positional player that Knight wanted to build his roster around.
And just like that, after five seasons of losing and 403 games where Terry always had time afterwards for discussion and did so with class and professionalism, he was gone. There would be no thank you, no "i appreciated your time", he was out, gone to Dallas, on to the next adventure. It was a definitive cut by Knight from the failed "rebuild while competing" Babcock project, a campaign that started around the drafting of Terry.
Jet came in at #16 on my GOAT Atlanta Hawks, and #3 in the Hawks of the Aughts Decade but remains one of my all-time favorite Hawks for the way he played, he worked (a notorious gym rat who practiced shooting at all hours of the day and night), and for his candor.
My favorite moment with Terry came in an interview after a tough game, after looking around to make sure it was just him and myself talking, answered a question I had regarding if he felt his defense in the NBA didn't match up with his defensive reputation in college. He told me that he felt a lot of pressure to play good offensively, since he believed that's where reputations were made and success was measured in the NBA. His defense had taken a backseat. Most guys would have deflected my question, but he took the time to be thoughtful about his answer and didn't spare what he felt was the truth, no matter how he looked, image wise, because of it.
Terry has gone on to be a very successful part of a great Dallas Mavericks franchise, being deployed in the best possible role for him as a combo guard off the bench who can kill you with late game buckets and make you pay for double teaming Dirk Nowitzki. He has been extremely dependable, having played 80+ games in a season (9) times in (12) seasons, and never played less than (74) in a season. He was sixth man of the year in 2008-2009 and is always among the leaders in fourth quarter points.
They came so close in 2006 to winning it all and now, with JT wrapping up his Age 33 season, standing just one win away from the ultimate prize, I want to see him making the big shot to win it, to watch him fly down the court with his trademarks wings out and low, a picture I've seen so many times in his understated career.
Go get it Jet. Win that ring. I'm pulling for you.