Keith Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — It was a fine ceremony and all, but I have to figure wherever he is, Larry H. Miller is ticked.
I also imagine if he were at EnergySolutions Arena, Wednesday, there would have been one heck of a post-game chewing out.
The Jazz regular season ended in a way that would have had Miller fuming. Hopes of securing home court advantage in the playoffs died meekly at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, 100-86. In 24 hours they went from a possible No. 2 seed to a No. 5 seed and a road opener against Denver, a team that beat them three of four in the regular season.
Remember Miller's old auto dealership slogan, "You know this guy"?
You know these guys (the Jazz), too. Good enough to make you wonder, erratic enough to give you indigestion. You know they're limping around with a bad Achilles here, a strained rib cage there, a strained calf everywhere. Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirlenko didn't even suit up.
But you also know they were given up for toast in early January before putting together one of the better second halves in the league.
You know they've almost always been a team with toughness. At the same time, it has usually been a team just a spice or two shy of a really good gumbo. Still, it's been enough to get them in the post-season for the 24th time in 27 years.
Wednesday was a night of emotion and remembrance in Jazzdom. Not only was the team in a one-game situation, with a playoff-type buildup, but it was a day for Miller, the late, great Jazz owner who kept the franchise from leaving.
Miller died in early 2009 of diabetes-related complications and the place hasn't been the same since. The Jazz are still making war, same as always, under Jerry Sloan. But it's not the same without Miller sitting courtside in his sneakers and golf shirt, arms folded, squinting into the bright lights.
It just isn't a full-on Jazz game without Miller chipping away at the refs, then hot-footing into the locker room at half time to chew his team out.
Playoff atmosphere notwithstanding, the early going, Wednesday, wasn't something either team would want to in a highlight video. The Jazz started out 1-for-8 from the field, Phoenix 1-6. If it hadn't been for Mehmet Okur and Amar'e Stoudemire, the clubs could have called a mulligan. Stoudemire scored nine of Phoenix's first 11, Okur 10 of the Jazz's first 14.
But by the second quarter, there was no pretending on the Jazz's part. They were woefully ineffective, with Kirilenko and Boozer out with injuries. Still, Phoenix was missing a starter, center Robin Lopez. The Jazz rapidly fell behind by 18 and the ornery crowd resorted to a tried and true — however ineffective — method: booing the refs.
If Miller had been there, he'd have been leading the raspberry.
Meanwhile, the Jazz have to worry about getting healthy in a few days.
Even with the playoff implications, it was hard not to focus on Miller. The team held a halftime celebration to place his number in the rafters, along with banners for John Stockton, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, Karl Malone, Adrian Dantley, Jeff Hornacek, Pete Maravich, Frank Layden and Hot Rod Hundley.
Like Layden and Hundley, Miller didn't make the honor roll for playing for the Jazz. He got there for buying the team, building the arena and footing the bills for a quarter century. That's plenty. Since he didn't have a Jazz number, they retired his old fast-pitch softball number (9) instead.
The banner was unveiled as Olympian musical strains rose. Team president Randy Rigby revealed the court will hereafter be named after the former Jazz owner.
"Wow," said his widow, Gail, during the ceremony. "What an emotional crowd. I think you guys took lessons from Larry."
Unfortunately for the Jazz, they were down by 17 at the time.
I could picture 19,000 angry Jazz fans storming into the locker room and telling the team off.
But not unlike Miller himself, that didn't stop his wife from declaring, "This team deserves your cheers. I can feel his energy through you, and we're going to win this game."
Do you know these guys?
If not, you should by now.
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