Utah Jazz: Miller was a superfan to the end

Published: Saturday, Feb. 21 2009 12:56 a.m. MST

As he rested on what a few short hours later would be his deathbed, Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller — his body being ravaged by complications from type-2 diabetes — received some rather uplifting news.

It was delivered late Thursday night by his wife, Gail, shortly after the franchise he ran for so long beat defending the NBA champions at EnergySolutions Arena.

"After the game was over," she said, "I went in (the bedroom) and told him that we'd beat Boston, and he said, 'Yes!' "

It wasn't the only victory savored by Miller in his final days.

There also was the one last week over the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that eliminated the Jazz from last season's NBA playoffs.

"He was elated about that," said son Greg Miller, Larry's successor, overseeing both the Jazz and the entire Larry H. Miller Group of Companies

"He said, plain and simple, 'That's one for the good guys,' "Greg Miller added. "So, I will tell you, he was competitive even there in his hospital bed."

Those employed by him longest would expect nothing less.

"He was a fan more than an owner," said longtime Jazz broadcaster "Hot" Rod Hundley. "He wanted to win, and that was the biggest thing about playing the games."

Over the years, though, some saw an evolution.

"He went from being a superfan to a very knowledgeable person," said current head scout Dave Fredman, one of the last remaining members of the original New Orleans Jazz staff. "He really learned the game. He was a pretty astute person, as we all know.

"You didn't have to say things twice to him in a meeting," Fredman added. "He remembered everything you said."

Fredman also recalls being blown away by how Miller could compute figures in his head, from simple shooting percentages to his self-created and somewhat complicated "batting average" used to measure player success.

More than that, though, he will never forget that while Miller was "a very competitive person," he also "had a humanistic side."

Like current assistant coach and former general manager Scott Layden, Fredman left the organization for several seasons to work elsewhere in basketball.

"He welcomed us back with open arms, just because (current GM) Kevin (O'Connor) and (longtime head coach) Jerry (Sloan) wanted us back," Fredman said, "and that says a lot about him as a person.

"You don't know how good an owner is until after you don't work for him anymore," Fredman said. "After I left, I realized he was one of the best, if not the best, owners in professional sports, just because he let people he trusted do their jobs."

Jeff Hornacek spent his final seven NBA seasons playing for the Miller-owned Jazz, including two in which he joined Karl Malone and John Stockton in taking the team to the NBA Finals.

Speaking by phone Friday night, he could still envision Miller sitting in his usual courtside seat, encouraging his own players while yelling at coaches and players from the other team, and even referees.

"He was, I think, the best owner you could play for," said Hornacek, who lives now in the Phoenix area but still is employed by the club as a part-time assistant coach. "He was a guy you wanted to go to battle for in every game."

Hundley will always recall Miller's legendary halftime visits to a certain locale — especially when he was riled.

"When Larry would get up and storm (the) lockeroom," he said, "I knew he wasn't a very happy camper. But, in most cases, in the second half, after he went in there, we played a lot better."

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS