Disclaimer: Not being a successful business man; CEO of a company that owns a Sports franchise; member of the LDS Church; or individual with any rights to Getty Images – take all of this with an objective grain of salt. None of this should be offensive, but if you feel like getting a hold of me, there are countless ways. Comments always welcome.
I love Larry H. Miller (pbuh). Which is a kind of strange thing to say, especially for a non-Utahn. I’ve never met him. I never learned about him growing up. I’ve never even driven a Honda or Toyota before. But from my research of him over the last fifteen years or so, I can honestly say that I love all the risks he took to become who he became. And who he became was more than just a business man; he became an iconic image and philanthropist. Essentially, he was the Mormon Bruce Wayne, who happened to also publicly be Batman. More than all the scholarships for students and donations to law enforcement agencies his greatest gift to the people of Utah (in my silly sports fan view) was giving the people of Utah a professional sports team they could fall in love with.
I don’t just mean buying the team when it was a bad investment . . . or keeping the team in Salt Lake City. I mean: putting in all the extra hours and putting in his energy to make this franchise a winner. He was a success. And he succeeded through hard work and honest efforts. The sports franchise that he bought was loved and cared for with the same principles (hard work and honest effort) that made him a success. And the Utah Jazz succeeded because of it. For those who may be confused, success is averaging 50+ wins* in the regular season and 5 wins in the playoffs per season, for every season in the last quarter of a century. The Utah Jazz, more than anything else, were successful because of strong leadership. And more than just being the guy who signed everyone’s payslips, Larry H. Miller had the spirit to not only work hard on the individual level, he was committed to inspiring others to give their best as well. After-all, a really smart guy said something like that a while back. You knew that guy. But now, now there's a new guy out there; and he and we both owe it to the old guy to get to know one another.
Reaping what you sow
Sadly, in sports making a winner and making money doesn’t always go hand in hand. Just look at the Los Angeles Clippers – they don’t win. But their owner makes money off of them every single year. He’s so cheap (on and off the court) that his is a team that’s named after a type of sailing ship, and if you haven’t noticed, his team doesn’t even have a boat in any of their logo, uniforms, or merchandise. How hard is it to draw a boat? Apparently it’s way harder (on the wallet) than just having a basketball Lakers-style logo in different colors and font spell out your name. Larry paid the bucks to change the uniforms (and logos, and all floors in the arena just for starters) a number of times. And that’s just the most superficial aspect of the team . . . Larry spent the money and time to make this team a winner. The Clippers on the other hand? Their franchise has 16 total playoff wins and stumbled out of the first round of the playoffs only twice, ever. Half of those wins came during the Richard Nixon / Gerald Ford Presidential terms. There's just no comparison available for Larry H. Miller, especially not when looking at some of the other owners of NBA teams in this conference.
Why does a blurb on Greg Miller (the New King who inherited the Kingdom under the watchful eye of regent/advisers like Randy Rigby and crew) start off with three paragraphs on how awesome Larry H. Miller was? Why do I even keep half jokingly write pbuh after mentioning his name? (Please don't kill me, Followers of Islam) Well, I think it’s because any story about Greg Miller, the CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies -- making him the effective head of the Utah Jazz, has to start with his dad. And rightly so as Greg Miller was groomed for this spot at the head of this company for decades. Larry H. Miller put so much of his time, effort, and himself into making the Jazz. It would be foolish to just assume that he didn't put in a similar (if not greater) contribution of his time, effort, and himself into his family -- especially his heir. Yet, it’s very easy for someone far from the situation to wildly postulate on Greg Miller. I’ve been guilty of it before. But I think it’s even more important for someone far from the situation to also admit there’s just so much I don’t see.
Perception vs. Reality
I don’t see Greg Miller at every home game. I don’t see Greg Miller yell at players when they are playing poorly. I don’t see Greg Miller get into fights with fans in the stands. (Scroll up to see something you may have missed) But by the same token, I don’t see that Greg Miller is making the calls to the Jazz brass to get status reports on injured players. I don’t see that Greg Miller is going into the locker room at halftime and after games. I don’t see that Greg Miller is not being expressive and extroverted because he doesn’t care; rather, I do see him keep his cool because that’s just him.
I don’t see those expressive outbursts that we're accustomed to seeing because Greg is not his dad. He’s Greg. And he loves this team and shows it in different ways than we’re used to. We’re used to a certain standard – a standard we fell in love with – but that doesn’t mean the new guy is sub-standard. Honestly, how could you grow up in that type of environment, so close to the team – and NOT love it? Greg Miller loves the Jazz. And frankly, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Sure, previously Greg Miller admitted to being more of a cycling fan than a basketball fan; however, that interview was from a number of seasons ago. Maybe things have changed now? I’m almost certain that they have since he took control of the helm of this huge company (which includes the Jazz) from his departed father. I don’t see Greg putting up the kind of money he does into our team if he didn’t believe in it. By the same token, Larry was a huge softball fan – that didn’t mean he didn’t have a big place in his heart for basketball. In this regard I do not think that the apple falls far from the tree.
A major disposition difference exists between father and son, Larry is outwardly emotional while Greg appears calm and collected. There is no doubt that Larry's emotions and gut instinct were a necessary boon at the beginning of the Utah Jazz era. It was a risk to buy all of the team, and he took a series of risks in order to build what we have. However, in order to sustain growth and reach new heights, perhaps our franchise now needs Greg's rationalism? Everyone talks about Andrei Kirilenko's deal -- but most fans fail to besmirch the organization for Matt Harpring's golden handshake deal. That deal was a free agent contract were the Jazz bid against themselves and market value to pay a guy who made $4.5 million (over 4 seasons) in his previous contract a (then) huge sum of $6.25 million (over 4 seasons). That was an emotion based signing that eventually necessitated a move where we lost a promising backup point guard to spell Deron Williams, Eric Maynor. A more rational contract for a guy who finished his previous contract scoring 12.5 points per game at a 47.5 fg% rate would have been significantly lower. At least Andrei's huge raise came after a great season . . .
Greg Miller is on twitter. He has given sports writers, teams, players, media, and fans unprecedented access to himself. A few other team owners are on twitter as well, but there's no rule that states that you have to be there. Greg Miller is there. But instead of saying 'thank you', some fans have used it as a way to (through the empowering anonymity of the internet) say mean things to him -- or at the very least -- make fun of some of his tweets. I know that I've found some of his tweets to be off-point for what my unreasonable expectations would be for him. But I just can't expect a guy who has his own life outside of work (which involves taking care of more than just the Jazz) to only post about the Jazz. I can't imagine how many of my followers on twitter were upset with me when a lot of my tweets surrounded the Cricket World Cup, instead of talking about a recent loss at home to the lowly Washington Wizards. I can't blame Greg for that. Instead, I should be lauding him for that, he's giving us inside access to him. You know that if Larry H. Miller had twitter back in the 90s I would have printed those out and hung them up in my high school locker. The fervor over his tweets may not be there, but we should be excited to receive them at all. We hear him on the radio, he's interviewed a lot in print, and for the web. But here, online, we get GregInUtah unfiltered.
Sadly, what some of us see isn't a guy who loves the team, but a guy we can vent our frustrations against. Which is silly, because suggesting that Greg isn't also frustrated by our losses is silly. He put his money where his mouth is, and we played this last season while he paid the super duper luxury tax. And we didn't even win 40 games this year. If he didn't believe in the team he wouldn't be paying that kind of salary to our guys. He would be Donald Sterling-ing it. No matter how the team performs, or how people vent at him -- one thing that Greg is letting us see with his twitter account is the one thing we're overlooking. It's not GregInUtah . . . . we need to be seeing the Utah in Greg.
The Utah in Greg
Maybe I watch too many movies (that Inception flick sure be tricky!) but I think there's a happy ending here in Utah for our beloved Jazz. And it really does start at the top, it starts with Greg Miller. The guy who should be Utah's favored son, a proverbial union of the type of kid Bruce Wayne would have with the Queen of England or something. (Stick with me on this analogy, there may be a payoff . . . uh . . . .maybe not.)
It appears that almost every move that somehow was made under the early part of his reign has some negative blowback. Letting Wesley Matthews go because it would have been impossible to pay him is seen as our guys not taking initiative. Drafting the best player available, who is better than a number of guys drafted ahead of him is seen as settling. Bringing back a veteran fan favorite is seen as making the best of a bad situation. Promoting a guy who paid his dues in this system to head coach is a failure to keep a senior citizen interested in the daily grind of a high pressure job. Even something as silly as the rumor of one player being traded for another, and the possibility of it being discussed by a sycophantic local media, was somehow unfairly blamed on him. Being at the top isn't easy. Especially not in a season like we just had. (Which is kinda why this is one of the ten or eleven things I'll never forget about this season...)
More than that, it was a messed up year in the life of Greg Miller as well.
Instead of blaming him for all that didn't go perfectly this year we should be coming together to help him, in these messed up times. (Or better yet, let's talk about the great things that he did, like helping to keep the Sacramento Kings in their small market?) He was groomed to run the company, not start over (in some Inception style father/son business empire thingy). And without Jerry Sloan, Phil Johnson, and Deron Williams he's forced to start over with this part of The Larry H. Miller group of companies. Alas, he shouldn't have to start over alone though. A king is only as strong as his kingdom. And his kingdom only as strong as his people. As Jazz fans we are his subjects. We cheer his champions and knights who go into battle. (Players) We sing praise upon the instructors the King indentures. (Coaches and Training Staff) We read the words of the scribes he is the patron of. (Media) We even laugh at the court jester who humiliates himself for our amusement (
David Locke The Bear).
If you didn't get it, while Greg has all the qualities that make him of Utah -- we are the Utah that's supposed to be in him. Thus, making him Greg *and* Utah. United. Working together. And reclaiming our birthright at the top of our Division, and sometimes also, Conference. Sure, Greg Miller isn't like his dad in every way. He's not going to fight for his team in the stands like Larry did. But you can be sure that Greg Miller is going to fight for his team everywhere else.
And that's a guy I want to know.
* - In the lockout shortened season of 1998-1999 there were only 50 regular season games. According to the Jazz winning percentage that season they would have won 61 games if the league had 82 scheduled regular season games. This value, 61, was used instead of 37 for calculating the average number of regular season wins for the last 25 years. To use 37 would have systematically undermined the work of the Utah Jazz team that amassed the 3rd highest regular season winning percentage in franchise history. Furthermore, using a value out of a set of 50 against 24 other values which are out of sets of 82 is just poor statistical method.