SALT LAKE CITY — While the sports world focused on Gordon Hayward’s return to Utah and the public treatment he (BOO!) received from (BOO!) Jazz fans (BOO!) in his (BOO!) first (BOO!) game (BOO!) back (BOOOOO!), the family of the recently slain North Ogden mayor, Maj. Brent Taylor, received a much warmer welcome in private.
The Jazz wanted to show the NBA organization’s gratitude for Taylor’s sacrifice and to give the grieving family a slice of happiness during a brutally tough time.
The franchise had hoped to honor the Taylors in person at last Monday’s home game with a moment of silence, but Jennie Taylor was in Delaware to be on site when her husband's body was transported back to U.S. soil. The family originally thought the funeral would be this past Saturday, but plans changed when they learned that the military keeps bodies of personnel who die on duty for seven days before releasing them for memorial services.
That gave the Jazz an opportunity to give the family a much-needed fun diversion to spend the night watching their favorite team play from a private suite. About 20 other members of the family watched the game elsewhere in Vivint Arena.
Jazz president Steve Starks called it a "very moving and special night for the family" that lost its hero. Starks attended high school in North Ogden, where he became friend's with Mike Ashworth, the brother of Taylor's wife Jennie, so the mayor's tragic death hit close to home and to his heart. Taylor was shot and killed Nov. 3 while deployed to Afghanistan while on duty with the Utah National Guard.
“He was an incredible person," said Starks, who met him at an event four years ago. "He’s a guy that’s a total hero."
The Taylor family arrived early for the Hayward Homecoming/Jazz game, and the seven kids, ages 11 months to 13 years old, were invited on the court during warmups and were able to give players high-fives as they entered the arena.
Jennie Taylor greatly admires Gail Miller, and they got a chance to meet. The Taylors also visited with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife Jeanette and took a pregame photo on the court with former Jazz player and TV color commentator Matt Harpring. The family was also treated to a pregame meal.
Perhaps the best moment of the night — not including the Jazz’s exciting 123-115 win over Hayward’s Boston Celtics — happened outside of the Utah locker room following the game.
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell took time to chat and laugh with the family and signed autographs, an adorable and heartwarming experience that was captured on video and tweeted out by the NBA.
“This is what a role model is supposed to look like,” Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office tweeted in response to Mitchell’s heartfelt actions. “Genuinely engaging with a family whose hearts have been broken!”
“Oh man, @spidadmitchell spending time with the family of fallen hero Major Brent Taylor and giving them a moment to put aside their grief,” Jazz fan Greg Camp tweeted. “I appreciate this so much more than the victory last night against the C's. Thanks DM!”5 comments on this story
Another NBA fan wrote, “This brought tears to my eyes. May God bless their father's memory and protect these beautiful children's hearts.”
Mitchell signed his game-worn No. 45 City Edition jersey and gave it to the family for a special keepsake.
"In the grand scheme of things, that’s what sports can also be about," Starks said, referring to the special bonding experience the family was able to have at the Jazz game. "There can be drama about players returning or picking this team or that team but sports can and should also be about providing special moments that put smiles on people faces.”