SALT LAKE CITY — Theoretically, the press conference could have been to announce the signing of Gordon Hayward to a long-term deal, or an update on the renovations to Vivint Arena.
Although either would have been good news to Jazz fans, it would also have been short-term news. In wide angle, this was even better. On Monday, team owner Gail Miller and family announced the Jazz and Utah will be together forever. The family has been saying this since 1985, shortly after Larry H. Miller said to his wife during a freeway drive, “We have to do everything we can to keep the Jazz here!”
That included buying the team.
But now it’s all in writing, endorsed by the NBA. A legacy trust has been established that will keep ownership within the family in perpetuity. The Wasatch Mountains might sink and the Great Salt Lake might evaporate, but the Jazz are in the land of oh-my-heck forever.
“Our goal is — and always has been — to win an NBA championship,” said Gail Miller. “Utah would not be the same without the Utah Jazz.”
To the average fan, a legacy trust is mostly legal mumbo-jumbo. That’s not the case with the Jazz. The Millers wanted to be certain no outlier could roll in and take over the operation. Now family ownership will continue through the generations. Behind Gail and sons at the rostrum on Monday were numerous Miller grandchildren, who despite owning a pro basketball team, still had the look most kids do, i.e. “Can I have my phone back?”
That’s not to say they aren’t taking it seriously. Bryan Miller, Larry’s son, noted that younger members of the family are actively preparing to one day run the team. When Larry bought the franchise, he told Utahns “the Jazz are all yours.”
“With the legacy trust, this statement is true, not just for the short term, but now forever,” Bryan said.
Talk of the Jazz leaving Utah has periodically arisen ever since the team arrived in 1979. In the early years, the team experimented with moving to Las Vegas. Offers to buy the struggling franchise were tempting. But the car dealer and his wife insisted they had a “stewardship” to keep. So they let the offers pass.
Meanwhile, the Jazz got famous. Stockton-to-Malone became as ubiquitous in Utah as fry sauce. Frank Layden turned on the laugh track and fans ate it up. Jerry Sloan brought John Deere hats into fashion. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer led the team to the conference finals.
Twice the Jazz made the NBA Finals. Although they haven’t been back, they have never been abysmal (OK, 2013-14 was close). Since the Millers bought in, the Jazz have had just four losing seasons. This year the team is on track to make it to the playoffs, with room to spare.
Utahns never really lost their affection, regardless.
Although keeping the Jazz was often a foregone conclusion, it shouldn’t have been. When Larry died in 2009, it was hard to say whether his sons would feel as passionately about their team. Clearly no one was as outwardly demonstrative as Larry — which might have been a good thing.
But there was no denying the original owner’s commitment. Larry cried at press conferences and bantered with players and kept his coaches and installed his own locker. Media criticism of the team was seldom personal to Miller because he often led with criticism of his own.
But like a good parent disciplining a child, he always finished with a hug.
So before he passed away, he handed the main leadership to his wife and sons. Changes such as a board of directors came later. The most recent move was to ensure there would never be too much change.
“This,” team president Steve Starks said, “ensures the words ‘Utah’ and ‘Jazz’ will forever be connected.”
In fact, if you ask both parties, they’re just getting started.