THERE ARE TWO HARD COLD facts always staring the Utah Jazz in the face, every morning and every night. They won't go away.
One is the fact that the Lakers are still standing in the way to anywhere else, most significantly the NBA championship.Two is the fact that their arena is too small.
If only, when they moved from New Orleans, they'd brought the Superdome with them.
But they didn't. And while the 12,444 seats in the Salt Palace were plenty in the Jazz's humble Utah beginnings, now they are a constant reminder that unless they're doubled, or close to it, the Jazz will soon be operating on a net deficit that would make even a government bureaucrat stand up and take notice.
The bottom line is, either the Jazz get more seats fast, or in two or three years the upwardly mobile NBA salary cap (so-called) is going to seriously dwarf the gate.
Or perhaps you hadn't heard about the NBA salary-cap progression that will take team payrolls from $5.8 million to $10.8 million in the next five years.
Well, Larry Miller, the Jazz owner, has.
He sees the enemy, and it is the Salt Palace.
"We have to have a new arena," he says.
He says it matter-of-factly. Not threateningly. Remember, this is the man who rescued the Jazz from winters in Minnesota by buying out Sam Battistone and stating that the Jazz were as much a part of Utah as Canyonlands National Park.
In a lot of ways, Miller's zeal is similar to Joe Robbie, the owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL football franchise.
The name "Joe Robbie" got a lot of national air time during Super Bowl week, when Super Bowl XXIII was played in Joe Robbie Stadium, a 75,000-seat arena that sits between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in South Florida.
The reason they named the stadium after Joe Robbie, instead of the more traditional "Giants Stadium" or "Memorial Field," is because it IS Joe Robbie's Stadium.
He built it and he bought it. Every turnstile, every folding chair, every light in the scoreboard, Joe Robbie owns. All that turf that was torn up at midfield during the Super Bowl - Joe Robbie paid for that turf.
He didn't start out wanting to own his very own stadium. He started out wanting to merely own the Dolphins. But when the Orange Bowl in downtown Miami was starting to look like a well-lit slum, Mr. Robbie knew that he needed either an Orange Bowl renovation, or a new Orange Bowl.
The problem was, the government and/or people of South Florida didn't agree. They voted down two separate bond proposals and a proposed sales-tax increase to upgrade the Orange Bowl; and they rejected a proposal that resort tax be used to build a new Orange Bowl.
So Joe Robbie said all right then, he'd build his own stadium.
He got bank financing for the $110 million project by selling 10-year leases for executive suites and for special sections of seats called club seats. The club seats are basically normal seats - although they are two inches wider - but their appeal is that they provide access to high-class concession stands and VIP bars situated behind them on the concourse.
Robbie offered the suites for between $29,000 and $65,000 a year, on a 10-year lease, while he offered the club seats for anywhere from $600 to $1,400 per year per seat, also on a 10-year basis.
These suites and seats went as fast as shaved ices on the beaches at Key West.
Robbie went to the banks and showed them that he already had a guaranteed $10 million in revenue per year for the next 10 years.
The banks gave him his $110 million.
He built the stadium on budget and on time. It was first used a little more than a year ago. As the Super Bowl showed, it is a state-of-the-art facility; possibly the best stadium in America.
And, as Robbie, 71, said during Super Bowl week, if he lives to be 100, he'll own it all, without having the bank as a partner.
The natural question to Larry Miller is: Would he be interested in building his own place in Salt Lake? Prior to a Jazz game last Thursday, Miller responded.
"We're exploring all the avenues," he said. "Actually, we're working on just the kind of thing Joe Robbie did, with the VIP seating and that kind of idea.
"I've said all along that I'm not looking for a handout from anyone. I'm not looking for a windfall profit. But we're going to need some help on the arena. We need to work with the city and the state on this."
Miller said $35 million in increased debt is the limit the Jazz could service.
A new arena would cost approximately $45 million, and that doesn't include the land underneath the arena, or parking.
"We think the parking could be owned by the city," he said, "and be some kind of a multipurpose downtown parking facility."
Miller is hoping negotiations now under way with Salt Lake City, and with the state of Utah, prove cooperative. He's hoping they can become partners. Then they won't have to break the fans' budget to see the games (indeed, Dolphins' tickets are among the most expensive in the NFL), they'll be able to keep pace with NBA inflation, they'll have one of the best arenas in the league, and the only problem they'll have is who to name the new place after.
Well, that, and what to do about the Lakers.