Sunday Reading: Larry H. Miller and the Opera

October 25th, 2009 | by Spencer Hall

gail_miller_michael_ballam

Today’s Deseret News features a great interview with Gail Miller and Michael Ballam about the late Larry H. Miller’s support for the Utah Opera Festival in Logan, Utah. I suggest you follow that link now and read the entire thing.

The Utah Opera Festival is dedicating their upcoming season to former Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, who donated millions of dollars anonymously to their foundation, including funding the building of a 43,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility and buying a 64-unit apartment complex to house the performers.

This kind of philanthropy is no surprise to anyone who followed Miller’s career, but as the title of the article says, in reference to his famous business tag line, “Who knew this guy loved opera?” This article illustrates all the reasons I loved Larry: He was a complicated mix of ambition, sincerity, intelligence, enthusiasm, and emotion. He is often reduced to a caricature due to his famous tendency to cry at seemingly innocuous press conferences and his fanatical outbursts from the sidelines at Jazz games. But anyone knows who ever listened to his weekly radio show or heard him speak at a community event or as an adjunct lecturer at local business schools, he was a fascinatingly complex and thoughtful person who had his hands in nearly every aspect of community life in Utah for more than 25 years.

Though I didn’t always agree with everything Mr. Miller said or did, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the life he lived. The following quote is a good example of his duality as business savant and soft-hearted philanthropist:

“I told him, my vision is not about opera or musical theater,” Ballam said. “It’s about blessing the community and the children.”

“Michael’s vision is something that spoke to Larry,” Gail Miller added.

“Larry,” Ballam continued, “told me to make a list of our needs and to put them in order.” That list included housing for visiting artists, a production facility and an endowment fund that could guarantee future income.

“I have no idea how he remembered everything. He didn’t take any notes,” Ballam said.

“He has an intense concentration ability,” Gail Miller added, “and when he focuses, nothing else is in the room.”

“And nobody could remember numbers like Larry,” Ballam remembered. “He could do amortization rates and figure profit margins in his head. It was amazing — an incredible gift.”

Even while embracing the fine arts, it was still all basketball for Miller:

That summer, the Millers attended their first opera in Logan. “I was afraid he had fallen asleep because he didn’t move a muscle,” Ballam said.

“At intermission, I scurried down there, and his shirt was wet from tears. I said, ‘I know it’s a sad story, but not until Act II.’ He said, ‘Story! What story, they’re singing in Spanish or something. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.’ Then he said something I’ll never forget, ‘That soprano, every time she goes for a high note, it’s a three-pointer!’ ”

After Ballam answered Larry Miller’s questions about what goes into a production of that caliber, “He said, ‘Every child in the state needs to see excellence at this level. How can I help you?’ ”

Link: Deseret News

Spencer Hall
Founder Spencer Hall has covered the NBA, Team USA and NBA D-League since 2007 and launched Salt City Hoops in 2009. Spencer is now the news director at KSL.com
Spencer Hall
Spencer Hall

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