Television commercials for Larry H. Miller's auto dealerships used to end with the catch phrase, "You know this guy."
In so many respects, Utahns did know that guy. It's why Utahns are taking the news of his death so personally.
Miller died Friday at home from complications of type 2 diabetes at age 64. He was a wildly successful businessman who didn't fit the mold of a Wall Street banker. He was a regular guy who wore khakis, golf shirts and tennis shoes. He was a man who understood the Utah marketplace perhaps as no other. He was an entrepreneur who had come from working-class roots, and he understood why it was important for families to get value for their dollar.
Miller was best known as owner of the Utah Jazz. Miller took such a personal stake in the franchise that he often participated in team activities, even donning a vintage green-and-gold Utah Jazz uniform during a commemoration event.
Until his health deteriorated, Miller and his wife, Gail, sat courtside at nearly every home game. He had intense, personal relationships with players and coaches, so much so when the players visited Miller after recent surgery to amputate both of his legs, he cajoled them to lighten the mood.
Then again, Miller was the eternal optimist. How else could a guy working the parts counter at an auto dealership in Colorado ever dream of someday owning his own dealerships, let alone professional sports franchises, movie theaters and restaurants? He didn't just believe in the American dream, he lived it.
As much as Miller was successful at making money, he enjoyed giving it away. Miller funded hundreds of college scholarships, donated construction funds to colleges and made many contributions other community charities.
If Miller had a fault, it was that he had difficulty delegating responsibility. He liked knowing the tiniest detail about construction projects and facilities. Shortly before the completion of the then-Delta Center, Miller commissioned a Deseret News artist to draw caricatures of people key to the arena's construction. Miller called the newspaper himself to initiate the project.
Sadly, the frenetic pace of Miller's life took a toll on his health and he spent much of the past year sidelined from his many community and business ventures. For someone who took such pride and satisfaction from being a hands-on owner and manager, it must have been heartbreaking for him and his close-knit family.10 comments on this story
We prefer to think of Miller tossing basketballs to members of the Jazz team as they warmed up for a game or the look of satisfaction on his face at the start of new project such as Jordan Commons or the construction of the Delta Center. It's pretty heady stuff for a guy who dropped out of college after six weeks.
In recent months, while recovering from a heart attack, Miller told Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson, "You know, I don't want this to sound boastful, but I really have had an extraordinary life."
Larry being Larry worried about how that might sound. He needn't. Utahns know it's true. They know because they knew him and they loved him.