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.

"Looking across and seeing that vacant seat left a spark missing from all of our hearts," Sudbury said.

"I think everyone feels like they know him," he added. "We all know that guy and we're going to miss Larry. He means so much to us all. It's like losing a member of your family."

Along with loud moments of silence and even louder cheers, fans also displayed their feelings with signs of support similar to one that read: "Thank you Larry H. Miller — You will be missed."

Because he was so visible for players and fans — from his spot on the court, to pregame huddles, to hanging out in the locker room — his presence will be missed for years to come.

Especially when it comes to him no longer being right in front of the action in his famous seat, where he could cheer on or chide his team, referees and opponents.

"Every time I look over there," Harpring said, "I'm going to remember Larry."

Miller's employees will, too. Security guard Paul Maese, who sits behind the Jazz bench during games and outside the locker room before and after, is experiencing "a sudden flush of loneliness."

He said Miller treated him like a co-worker, not an employee.

"Anybody who really knew him is hurting," said Maese, who has worked for the Jazz for nearly 20 years. "I sure miss him."

Miller also earned a soft spot in the hearts of Jazz players, who had him on their mind throughout the day.

At the morning shootaround, Andrei Kirilenko, who's been in Utah for all eight of his NBA seasons, considers Miller the "symbol of the Jazz," along with John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jerry Sloan.

"He's really the guy who created this organization and put it on the level where we are right now," he said.

Miller, the Russian added, is "really a huge part of the community and the city, so he's definitely going to be remembered."

Specifically, Kirilenko appreciated how Miller stood beside him even during some tough times.

"He's really a great man," the Jazz forward said. "He's going to be part of my heart, not only in the season but he's going to be part of my heart the rest of my life. ... I'm going to remember him."

Jarron Collins always enjoyed the personal interactions they shared — chats that included the two addressing each other jokingly and respectfully as "Mr. Miller" and "Mr. Collins."

"He was very hands-on, very passionate," Collins said. "The fans and the players that played for him respected him for it."

Like other players who came away encouraged after visiting Miller in the hospital after his leg amputations surgery last month, Jazz center Mehmet Okur was "surprised" to hear his health had taken a tragic turn for the worse.

"The last time I was with him it was at the hospital and he was feeling good and joking," Okur said. "It's tough. He stood behind us no matter what we did. He loved the Jazz. He loved Salt Lake City, Utah. It's tough. We're going to miss him."

Carlos Boozer called this "a tough moment for the Jazz family and for the Utah family." The power forward was touched deeply by how gracious, accommodating and "amazing" Miller and Sloan were for the Boozer family when his son, Carmani, battled life-threatening sickle-cell anemia.

"Larry's one of a kind. He was always in the locker room before the game, halftime of the game, after the game giving us support," Boozer said. "His presence is already missed. We already came in this morning, all of our heads were down, all sad. It's tough when you lose someone like that. We hope that he does rest in peace."

23 comments on this story

Harpring said things were quieter than usual at the team's shootaround Saturday morning.

"It's tough to take," he said. "Once you walk into this building, it reminds me of Larry."

Just like the now-empty chair.

E-MAIL: jody@desnews.com