Saturday, February 21, 2009

The King is dead. Love live the King!

Recent events have forced my hand, and I can no longer remain silent. We are all hurting right now. A season filled with injury (no need to elaborate) and insult (lack of recognition from the NBA family, especially during all-star weekend) just got worse. Larry H. Miller died yesterday. Typing the words makes my heart ache and fingers feel ashamed for even punching in the string of offending letters that spells such a statement. Earlier this year Larry was in bad shape, and back when I blogged about it (back when I was a frequent blogger) I even suggested that he was not out of the woods yet. ("after all, 'you know this guy' could have very well become 'you knew this guy' . . . ") It really does pain me that he is gone.

Not just on a Jazz fan level, but on a personal level. While I've never been a Utahn, never been a part of his church, or driven a car from a dealership he owned . . . I am at quite a loss right now. He was on my list of people that I wanted to meet once in my life, and now that will never happen. (For the record, I could easily live without having ever met Stockton, Malone or Sloan in my life)

Larry was different. He was a team owner, and a self-made business man (he used to sell auto parts door to door apparently, and last season generated $3 billion in revenues from his various businesses), but he was a fan first. He had walked the lonely road, and followed his conscience in his endeavors. He wasn't a rich old man chasing girls younger than his grand daughters. He wasn't an over night Internet billionaire who did not work a day in his life. He was the type of man who against logic and sound business sense would be loyal to his initial investments and make them worth the time and blood and effort he put into them.

Some casual people look at the Jazz and see an old school franchise. Their coach, Jerry Sloan, is old school. John Stockton's shorts are old school. They work the ball for layups, that's old school. Well, they were old school from top to down because Larry was old school. He did not cut an run when things went bad. He didn't need any stimulus package because he knew the value of hard work.

More than just a hard working, self-made business man he was an even better human being. Sure, his values were conservative (why is this almost automatically a negative adjective today?) but he was more than just a rich old man. I couldn't even begin to list all of good things he did for the community, and the state of Utah, in his life time. Nor am I the right person to do that. What I can do is relate some of my favorite Larry H. Miller stories:

Yeah, Miller used to play soft ball, and he was pretty good at it too!
  • I remember an incident that occurred early in Karl Malone's rookie season. When Malone arrived in Utah he did not know anyone. One night (which probably led to many nights over the years) he was visiting with the team owner. [How often does this happen? How amazing is it that Miller was even accessible to his most wet behind the ears employee?] Somehow, perhaps after dinner, Miller was driving Malone back to his apartment. Instead they were having such a deep conversation on the way back that Larry pulled into a Wendy's parking lot and they just stayed there, talking for over three hours. Both emotional men talked about their demons, what motivated them, and about life. That night a rotund Mormon business man and a large African American athlete from the south bared their souls to each other and forged a relationship that has lasted the rest of Miller's life. They both laughed, cried (anyone familiar with either individual knows that this is the truth) and a team owner was able to connect with one of his players on a level seldom achieved in professional sports. Karl and Larry have been family ever since, Malone even mentioned on TNT when he was on that he was going to go see Larry shortly. I hope for Malone's sake that he did -- otherwise it would be something Malone would beat himself up over for the rest of his life. [For the record, Malone did see Miller at least as recently as last August]
  • Larry did not play favorites though, back in the 1993-1994 season the Jazz were playing the Denver Nuggets in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Malone was having a particularly poor game and killing his own team. Miller -- a Jazz fan first and owner second -- moved out of the stands to personally instruct Sloan to bench Malone. Not to belabor the point, but I'm pretty sure the Lakers owner (Dr. Jerry Buss) isn't even clinically aware of when his team is playing, let alone if it's a home or road game. Larry was a much more hands on coach, but not obnoxiously so.
  • Larry took the time to understand and befriend all of his players -- though some more than others. While Deron Williams has only been in the league for 4 seasons, they have known each other well enough to call each other "friends," (ESPN.com, 2009). Miller even admitted that he does not relish playing against Deron in anything, but it's a challenge he does not shy away from. Why? Because they are both super competitive people -- but while Larry can be a gracious winner, Deron is not satisfied being named victor unless someone loses. What other team owner knows these personality quirks of his players?
  • He also befriended the SLC media where he even had a frequent (monthly? weekly? I don't even remember anymore as I don't get to listen to the radio over the Internet that frequently anymore) radio address on a local sport talk radio station, 1320 KFan. From those radio address I was able to learn much more about Larry, and where I became a huge fan of his.

Miller, though, was much more than just a Utah Jazz guy, or a Utah guy. He was an NBA guy. Miller was one of the instrumental players who was able to negotiate an end to the NBA Player's Association lockout back in the 1998-1999 season. If you are a fan of the NBA product you have Miller partly to thank for that -- regardless if you love or hate the Utah Jazz franchise. If you do love the Jazz, then you have so much to thank for, for this is the guy who was instrumental in making NBA basketball a possibility all these years in such a small market.

So today is the first day in my life as a Jazz fan where Miller isn't a part of the team. And it still hurts. It hurts his family. It hurts the players. It hurts the Jazz community. It hurts the Utah community at large. It hurts all around. Miller is survived with the new face of the franchise, his wife Gail; the Jazz brass (see sidebar at right) -- particularly his eldest son Greg; and a legion of loyal Jazz fans hungry to cheer on the Jazz to bring Larry his first NBA title.

Larry Miller holding his eldest song Greg in 1967 Larry Miller (in wheelchair weeks before having his legs amputated), Greg Miller stands to his right

Please be sure to visit the other great Jazz blogs for their awesome posts on this subject. Together we can heal and console each other. Right now is the time for the Jazz Family to circle the wagons and take solace in the fact that it is always darkest before the dawn returns. SLC Dunk | True Blue Jazz | The Cowhide Globe

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well done. RIP Larry.

dwillfan said...

great, great post. i feel all of your words. RIP larry.