Larry Miller’s Perspective on Team Ownership

June 3rd, 2014 | by Laura Thompson
Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

With the recent events in the NBA surround Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers, we’ve learned more about NBA owners and ownership (including the rules and constitution of the NBA owners). All of the information out there regarding NBA ownership made me pick up the Larry H. Miller autobiography, Driven, again, and re-read parts relating to Miller’s purchase of the Utah Jazz. Even though I’ve read the book and know several of the stories pretty well, I can forget just how much of a risk purchasing the team was for the Millers, and how it literally came down to some last-minute luck and details. But knowing the character of the man and knowing his motivations for buying the team—he so strongly wanted to keep the Jazz in Utah—continue to impress and touch me every time.

This portion stood out to me, specifically when it came to Miller’s core motivation for keeping the team in Utah:

“One afternoon I visited Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency of the LDS Church at the time, to seek his advice in this matter. He asked me some very perceptive rhetorical questions that helped solidify things for me, and then he acknowledged the potential for good in the millions of tiny impressions that would be made by the posting of Jazz scores and the mentions of the team in the news. He knew that keeping the team in the state would be beneficial for Utah and, by extension, for the image of the Church in Utah.

Shortly after my visit with President Hinckley, Gail and I were driving on I-15—I can remember we were near 4500 South—when suddenly I announced, ‘The Jazz can’t leave. We have to do everything we can to keep them here.’ Gail was a little shocked because my declaration came out of nowhere. I had kicked it around, done my homework, and so from then on it was a go.”

I’m trying to put myself in Gail’s shoes in that situation and I can imagine why she would have been shocked. My guess is that being a “little” shocked was a slight understatement—and even that’s an understatement. “Hey honey, let’s buy a basketball team today.” Kind of like it’s on the to-do list for the day under “Pick up the dry cleaning” and “get milk.” No big deal.

Also, one of the things I really liked about Larry H. Miller—and have seen and heard that Greg is similar in this respect—is that he was always looking for input and feedback from others, while often using Gail as a sounding board. Here, he was taking President Hinckley’s words to heart and had spent days discussing the possibility of acquiring the Jazz with Gail. One of the themes throughout the book that struck me is how much he trusted Gail, her opinions and her insights. That’s an especially comforting thought given that she’s the current owner.

The other part that stood out to me this time was when Miller had to meet with other owners before getting the green light to acquire the Jazz. Given how we’ve been given more of a glimpse into NBA owners in recent weeks, seeing how some of them interact with each other was interesting to me. And as much as Jazz fans may hate the Lakers, we have Jerry Buss to thank for his role in helping keep the Jazz in Utah.

“After dinner, the advisory finance committee gathered. It is composed of eight owners, usually based on seniority and hand-picked by Commissioner Stern. We sat around one table for the purpose of approving my ownership. Angelo Drossos, who owned the San Antonio Spurs at the time, sat next to me. I laid out my financial statements showing earnings and equity and the debt structures of my business. Angelo, for some reason, took the lead in the meeting and asked me a question. Midway through my answer, he interrupted and asked me another question. Midway through my next answer, he interrupted me again with another question. He did this five times. He had made up his mind that he didn’t want me there and wouldn’t listen to my answers. After the fifth interruption, [Jerry] Buss, whom I had never met, interrupted Angelo.

‘Angelo, why don’t you shut up and let him answer a question!’

Then Jerry started asking questions, and that led to a discussion of my numbers. The group knew I was on a firmer financial foundation than Sam [Battistone, the Jazz owner at the time], so if they cast their lots with the existing owner they needed me. Within a half hour, Jerry said, ‘I’m satisfied. Let’s go with him.’ Jerry saved me that day. I won approval from the owners.

On May 10, 1985, some three months after receiving the Jazz’s letter, I officially become part owner of an NBA franchise.”

There are other details within the first chapter on the Jazz that are so interesting to know, but I love this exchange between Buss, Miller, and Drossos. Who would have thought it was the Lakers owner—going against the antagonistic Spurs owner—who would play a role in keeping the Jazz in Utah?

I know I’m continually impressed when I read about the Miller family and how they run their businesses and the Jazz, their motivations for keeping them in Utah, and their beliefs on giving back to the community. There’s a level of humility that they’ve shown as they’ve been in the public eye in Utah for the last three decades and that’s incredibly refreshing, especially given the drama and events surrounding Donald Sterling and the Clippers recently. Remembering Greg Miller’s stint on Undercover Boss just underscores that that humility is continuing, and for that I’m grateful. We’re lucky to have the Millers as the owners of our team, and seeing glimpses into these behind-the-scenes sort of situations reinforces that for me.

I didn’t grow up in Utah–I only lived in Utah when I was in college–but I can only imagine how important the Jazz are in the lives of many basketball fans in Utah. What has having the Jazz in Utah meant to you?

Laura Thompson

Laura Thompson

I grew up in California, but have been a Jazz fan pretty much since I was in diapers; I went to Karl Malone's basketball camp when I was 11 and I flew up to Utah in 1997 to go to Game 3 of the Finals. After graduating from BYU in 2008, I moved back to California to work in Marketing and have been doing that for the last five years. My favorite things in life are the Utah Jazz, basketball, food (whether cooking or consumption of), reading, church, black Labs, and the beach (though hopefully not in that order).
Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson

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3 Comments

  1. cw says:

    That was a nice post. You should do more Jazz history and like that.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    It’s a good thing that Jim Buss wasn’t in charge of the Lakers when Larry Miller was petitioning the NBA to become an owner of the Jazz. It would have never happened.

  3. LKA says:

    I think Jerry was the owner of the Lakers at that time.
    I am old enough to remember the old Utah Stars ABA team. Also have watched the NBA for years along with ABA. Pistol Pete was one of my favorite players and when they announced the Jazz would be moving here I was thrilled. As we learn more and as Karl and John found out Larry is quite the man. Thank you Laura for the great article. And thank you for being a Jazz fan..

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