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Larry H. Miller

Published February 20, 2009 6:00 pm

The guy who saved the Jazz
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

'After all, you know this guy." Yeah, it's an advertising slogan, but this one happens to be true. All Utahns knew the late Larry H. Miller, or felt as though they did.

That wasn't always the case. Before he rode to the rescue of the Utah Jazz, he was known mostly in the business community for his car dealership and in the local sporting world as a softball player and team sponsor. But all that changed in 1985, when he went into hock for $8 million, twice his net worth, to buy a half interest in the foundering Jazz, Salt Lake City's then humble National Basketball Association franchise.

He did it to save the team for his home town. The financially weak team was in danger of being sold to other owners who would have moved it elsewhere. But he also did it because he could see a business opportunity. Miller later characterized it as his first big business risk. A year later he doubled down, paying $14 million for the other half of the team.

And so began the public tale of Larry H. Miller, local hero. In just a few more years, he took another huge plunge, borrowing from a Japanese bank to build the $93 million Delta Center, a new home for the Jazz, which opened its doors in 1991. In 1997, the once-lowly Jazz made it to the NBA finals. By then, "Stockton to Malone" had become the state's second-most famous motto.

You can argue that another slogan, "Light the Fire Within," might never have come to pass had Miller not proven that Salt Lake was a major-league city, capable of staging a Winter Olympics.

Jerry O'Brien, The Tribune's late publisher, used to muse that the only place in Utah where the Mormon/non-Mormon divide didn't exist was the Delta Center. He was right, and the state has Larry Miller, a dedicated Latter-day Saint, to thank for that.

He was a regular guy. All you had to do to know that was to look at him. His uniform was a golf shirt, a pair of khakis and athletic shoes. He was just Larry. People liked that.

He also was an emotional guy. Tears came easily during press conferences about Karl Malone's latest pronouncement or some other tempest in the Jazz pot or, frankly, almost anything. And he made decisions from his gut. Or, as he put it, "feel."

But he also was extraordinary. He had an entrepreneur's gift for seeing an opportunity where others shied away. And he had a wonderful head for figures.

Those early gambles on the Jazz paid off handsomely for Larry Miller, and other business successes followed, including his revival of the Bees at Franklin Covey Field. He, in turn, gave back to his community in numerous philanthropies.

Utah will miss him, in part because we all felt as though we knew him.

Thanks, Larry. You did a lot to make us a community.