Larry Miller: You know this guy?

By Doug Robinson
Deseret News senior writer

Published: Sunday, April 22 2001 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz owner and workaholic businessman Larry Miller stands in his office overlooking his Jordan Commons complex in Sandy.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

"After all, you know this guy." — TV commercial for Larry Miller car dealerships.

Do you now?

Did you know that he was once a school-boy marble champion and practiced his craft every day for three years?

Did you know he was a horrible student and that he lasted about a month in college?

Did you know he was brilliant? Or that he once scored so high on a college entrance test that school officials thought he cheated?

Did you know he has something close to a photographic memory and that he could tell you the part number for a '74 Toyota or how many Christmas lights it takes to cover a tree in front of the Delta Center if you asked him right now?

Did you know he consulted his church's president before he bought the Utah Jazz and that he risked everything to buy the team?

Did you know he had a dream that promised prosperity if he would obey one of his church's commandments?

Did you know that he has been in love with the same girl since junior high?

After all, you know this guy, because he appears in corny TV commercials and he owns the Jazz and the Delta Center and about half of State Street, and he's undertaken this unofficial role as Salt Lake's Great Uncle Larry, a cross between the city's great benefactor and one tough businessman.

But did you know he didn't meet his real father until the latter introduced himself at a softball game?

Did you know that while he was working 90-hour weeks that he rarely saw his children when they were growing up and that he beats himself up over it?

Did you know that he has been granted a second chance at raising a child?

Did you know that this intense, driven man collects poems and literary passages and wise sayings, makes notes for speeches in a tiny notebook and can go on and on about paintings and statues that move his soul?

'No wonder we're tired'

All you have to do is look at that right elbow to learn much about Miller. Strangely elongated and pointed, it looks as if a broom handle has been inserted in the joint. It's a cartoon elbow, borrowed from Popeye. If Karl Malone had this elbow, he would be illegal. The elbow is the product of pitching a softball for 27 years.

During most of his teenage years, he pitched for 15 minutes, every day, year-round, working through his repertoire of pitches — risers, drops, curves, knucklers, fastballs. During the winter he either braved the snow and cold outside or pitched in his basement. Sometimes he resorted to throwing darts underhanded at a plywood target. He pitched so much that his elbow became deformed with fluid and calcification. The payoff was a prolific pitching career and a place in the national softball hall of fame.

Miller's work ethic, powered by the narcotic of achievement and success, is both his strength and weakness. It was this work ethic that took him away from home and family. It was this work ethic that drove him to become a self-made millionaire in the great tradition of great American success stories, working his way up from stock boy and counter man to wealthy entrepreneur. At last count he owned 38 car dealerships, the Utah Jazz, the Delta Center, a TV station, Jordan Commons and everything in it (movie theaters, restaurants, offices), an insurance company, a real estate company, an advertising agency and more — all acquired in the last 22 years.

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