In the years before the baseball bug returned to my life, the Utah Jazz were at the center of my sports universe, and the annual attempts of the John Stockton/Karl Malone/Jerry Sloan teams to win an NBA championship were as absorbing as any Dodgers or Yankees team if not more, since they remained part of the ties that bound me back to my hometown, family and friends. Their 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals runs and eventual losses remain as bittersweet as anything I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan.
So I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Jazz owner Larry H. Miller on Friday. A devout Mormon whose faith prevented him from watching his own team play on Sundays, Miller’s righteousness and his up-close style sometimes got him into hot water, and deservedly so. At times, he could make a villain or a fool out of himself as well as any Steinbrenner, and he probably holds the professional sports record for tearful press conferences.
Miller invested his heart and soul in the franchise as much as any owner ever did, and the simple fact remains that his 1985-1986 purchase of the Jazz saved professional basketball in Utah and insured that a club in one of the league’s smallest markets thrived as a top-shelf organization year in and year out. A large part of that was thanks to his work to build what is now EnergySolutions Arena in 1991 and his willingness to keep the Stockton/Malone/Sloan core together for 15 years (1988-2003), all of them seasons in which the Jazz made the playoffs. That the long-awaited Next Year never arrived on his watch doesn’t diminish his efforts one bit, because the team he saved and the organization he built remain strong even after those legends have moved on. He’ll be missed.