Larry Miller called my house one day. He did that occasionally, usually just to talk. He probably did the same with others in the media.
Along with his many other talents, Miller is a gifted conversationalist, and I enjoyed the calls. When Miller talks, it's all substantive there's no fluff and his observations are interesting and illuminating. He is conversant and passionate about almost any subject painting, sculpture, religion, sports, America, politics, books, you name it.
Anyway, this time he said he had a favor to ask me. What could it be, I wondered? Some advice on a trade the Jazz were contemplating? Not likely. A loan? Even more unlikely. A discounted car deal? I wish.
He explained that he was about to buy the Triple A baseball team in Salt Lake City, and he was going to change the team name to the "Bees," as they were called in his youth. He asked if I would be willing to research newspaper archives to find the original Bee logo from the 1960s, so that he could replicate it for his new team.
Larry Miller has more people waiting to do his bidding than Tony Samaranch. He's got enough money to buy France with money left over to rent Monte Carlo. He owns movie theaters, auto dealerships, a race track, a movie production company, ranches, restaurants, TV and radio stations, a real estate development company, an NBA franchise, a professional baseball team, sports arenas and various philanthropic operations, with a hands-on style of running them.
And he personally called me about a logo?
No detail has ever been too small for Miller. As I once noted in a lengthy (6,700-word) profile about Miller, this is a man who can tell you how many Christmas lights it takes to decorate the trees around EnergySolutions Arena. He selected those trees himself, by the way, after weeks of research. He can tell you how many yards of concrete it took to build the arena, as well.
That's Miller's M.O. Delegation was never his strong suit. His attention to detail and his prodigious work ethic are both strengths and weaknesses.
He worked 70 to 90 hours a week for more than half his life, even long after he needed the money or the headaches. In a page torn right out of the Andrew Carnegie story, this self-made man who dropped out of college after six weeks went from stock boy to wealthy entrepreneur and did it in a hurry.
The problem is, he never knew when to slow down or how to take care of himself. There was always a certain urgency to everything he did. He was the antithesis of a politician he got things done and got them done yesterday (which is why he resisted all offers to join politics). It came at a price. He didn't sleep or eat well, and it took its toll. He looked haggard at times, and in recent years he has walked with increasing difficulty. He frequently winced from pain, but never said a word about it when you were around him.
"Larry doesn't look too good," was a common refrain among acquaintances in the past year or so.
His body had to organize a boycott finally to get him to slow down. A heart attack on June 10 was followed by kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and other problems associated with gout and diabetes. It took surgery and eight pints of blood and 59 days in the hospital and much more to get him on his feet again. He had enough health issues to stock a year's worth of "House" episodes. He says he almost died four times.
So now the 64-year-old Miller is trying to make changes in his lifestyle. Recently, he turned over CEO duties to his empire, as it is often called, to his son Greg, who has been groomed for the job for years. But will it be that easy?
You know the Miller type. Can't sit still. Must be up and doing. Thrives on the thrill of the hunt. As soon as he reaches the top of one mountain, he's looking for another to climb.
"My father has an insatiable appetite to correct problems and do deals," Greg once told me. Dave Allred, who worked for Miller for years, said, "He will go to his grave making a deal. That's what he does."
For Miller, and others like him, it's a double-edged sword. He needs rest, but he feels like he's only truly living when he's working. Like a shark (an otherwise poor metaphor for Miller), he has to keep moving to breathe. Not to work, not to achieve, not to solve problems, not to strive could be as unhealthy as doing all those things while neglecting himself. Miller on the sidelines is like John Stockton on the bench. He'll want in the game.Getting off the treadmill that has been his life for so many years will be a great challenge.
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. Please e-mail [email protected].