For the first time since 1984, the Utah Jazz are participating in an NBA playoff series without Larry H. Miller. The longtime owner of the franchise died Feb. 20 from diabetes complications. He was 64.
"This was a big part of the year for him and he was obviously very passionate," said veteran forward Matt Harpring, who joined the Jazz in 2002. "I really enjoyed having him around. He was always a guy you talked to before the game and you could just tell he was excited all the time. So I miss him. I do. I'm sure a lot of other people miss him, too."
Miller, who purchased 50 percent of the Jazz on April 11, 1985, and the other half on June 16, 1986, traditionally sat on the front row at home games.
"It's hard. Just bringing that up is tough because we love Larry and were used to having him here," said forward Carlos Boozer. "I remember the first game we had without him after he had went on to glory was tough because you look at his chair. We're all used to seeing him in his chair and to not have him there is just sad.
"But at the same time we know he's here in spirit. This is the building that he built," Boozer added before Game 3 of Utah's playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. "His family is always here. He's always in our thoughts. We have him in our minds all the time and we're going to play our butts off for him."
During Miller's tenure as owner, the Jazz made 19 consecutive trips to the playoffs — reaching the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. After a three-year absence, they started their current run of postseason appearances in 2007.
"From my standpoint, we look at it as a little more responsibility to try to continue to do the best we can. That's all you can do," said head coach Jerry Sloan. "What do we do when we lose somebody? We've got to go on about our life."
It hasn't been easy, however.
"We miss him," said Harpring, who noted how much Miller loved Salt Lake City and the Jazz. "Not seeing him sit on his seat near the court is definitely a thing we're still getting used to."
Miller's son Greg, who is now the chief executive officer of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, has similar thoughts.
"I would love to have him here. It would really be a great thing if somehow magically we could look across the way and there he was," Miller said. "But obviously that's not going to happen."
The playoffs, though, have sparked some reflection. Greg recalls riding in his father's prized Ford Falcon down State Street in the late '80s or early '90s and having fans wave and offer support to Larry concerning the team's playoff run.
The well wishes came on a short drive — with the car's top down on a warm spring day much like the one Thursday — from a Miller dealership to a restaurant.
"I've been thinking about that particular memory quite a bit lately," said Greg.