Larry Miller: A life fully lived

An empty space — in chair and in so many hearts

Published: Sunday, Feb. 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Assistant Jazz coach Phil Johnson, left, head coach Jerry Sloan and Gary Briggs, head athletic trainer, participate in a moment of silence for owner Larry H. Miller at the EnergySolutions Arena before Saturday's game.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

Nobody sat in the baby-blue folding aisle chair at the bottom of Section 17 — the one at the end of Row A across the court from the visiting team bench — during the Utah Jazz basketball game Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.

The normal occupant of that highly visible spot — as everybody in attendance knew well — was missing.

He was also being missed.

A night after his death, Larry H. Miller's seat was left empty as one of several heartfelt gestures and tender tributes the Jazz made to honor the man responsible for the sold-out building and for the successful franchise.

"It's going to be tough," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams. "We're definitely going to miss him over there."

Everywhere really, but that's where he was most visible at games over the years.

"Make no mistake," said Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor, "that's going to be missed that you're not going to look over there and see him sitting there."

Funeral services will take place next weekend, but the Jazz certainly didn't wait to memorialize their former boss.

Flags outside of the arena were put at half-staff after the 64-year-old Miller died due to diabetes-related causes Friday afternoon.

Prior to tipoff, the arena lights were dimmed except for two spotlights that glowed down from above onto the empty seat next to his mourning wife, Gail Miller.

That moment — and a pregame dinner by the entire family upstairs — was the highlight of "a remarkable evening" for Miller's son, Steve.

"The symbolism of the empty chair — that was powerful," he said. "That was very visual for me."

At the same time, a photo of Miller and the years of his life, 1944-2009, were displayed followed by a short video on Miller's life.

During the presentation, the multi-business mogul and philanthropist spoke in an old interview about how he'd like to be remembered by future generations as "a man who loved Utah."

The Utah crowd reciprocated that love on this special night — at first in a poignant and paradoxical way by honoring the always outspoken and opinionated Miller with a moment of silence.

Then 19,911 fans joined together, as requested, in singing the national anthem in unison before the starting lineups were announced.

Jazz players gave multiple fitting tributes themselves.

Gail Miller was given a pre-game courtside hug by Williams and an in-game greeting by Matt Harpring when he first entered the contest.

The players also sported patches with his familiar LHM initials inscribed on the old purple, green and yellow "J" note that was the team logo when Miller bought 100 percent of the franchise's shares on June 24, 1986. They'll wear the old-school memorial patches the rest of the season.

The Jazz's final tribute came in the form of a 102-88 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.

Williams capped the win off by following Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's suggestion of giving the game ball to Gail Miller in an emotional ending to the night.

Miller had previously received a bouquet of flowers from Bear and condolences from throngs of well-wishers, including referee Ken Mauer during a fourth-quarter time-out. Other Miller family members were also given flowers by Jazz dancers.

John Sudbury, the well-known fan who's cheered on the Jazz and teasingly taunted opponents for three decades, had an empty feeling seeing the empty seat across the arena from his spot behind the announcer's table.

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