When the Jazz once staged a celebration of their past as a game-night promotion, owner Larry H. Miller memorably squeezed himself into an old-style uniform and walked across the court to his front-row seat.
This month, unwittingly observing the 25th anniversary of his late father’s first regrettable outburst as an NBA owner, Jazz CEO Greg Miller launched into a tirade of his own.
The methods of delivery were slightly different. Greg Miller used social media; Larry Miller was always his own medium. The common element, besides Karl Malone’s quarter-century of staying power as a target of the Millers’ anger, was conduct unbecoming of an NBA owner.
Greg Miller’s recent ripping of Malone came via his blog. He clearly showed that he possesses his father’s DNA and that, in this case, he failed to benefit from having witnessed his father’s mistakes.
In Driven, his autobiography, Larry Miller wrote, “Greg will tell you that he learned a lot from me — he learned what he should do and what he shouldn’t do.”
Apparently not, however, when it comes to popping off.
Greg Miller this week turned down an opportunity to discuss how his response to Malone’s criticism of the franchise’s handling of last February’s Jerry Sloan-Deron Williams feud served as a learning experience for him. What he learned should be obvious to him and everyone else. Once words are out there, they can’t be unwritten. There’s no winning a verbal battle with someone whose statue stands on the EnergySolutions Arena plaza.
And while he’s like his father, he is not his father — which is an important distinction.
Larry Miller’s first big blowup with the Jazz, which came after a February 1987 loss to Phoenix in the old Salt Palace, would not be his last. Far from it. Yet for all of his short-sighted reactions, he was the master of recognizing his mistakes and trying to fix them.
That night, in the middle of his first season as the team’s full owner, Miller berated his players outside the locker room, then continued the rant once everyone was inside before storming out. The scene embarrassed coach Frank Layden, Malone and the other players — and Miller himself, who later told The Tribune, “I think my frustration was properly founded, but I think my method wasn’t correct.”
Larry Miller also had a big advantage over his son, in terms of public perception. He saved the Jazz twice, keeping them from moving to Miami or Minnesota with his purchase of each half of the team in successive years, having leveraged everything he owned. That buys a lot of forgiveness.
Regardless of whatever credibility Greg Miller earned by working his way through the company, to the average Jazz fan, he’s just the heir to a valuable franchise. That gives him considerably less room for error.
It comes down to this: Impulsiveness was a big part of Larry Miller’s game. For all of his business acumen, everyone understood that his emotion-driven decisions kept the Jazz in Utah. So his image could absorb the occasional self-administered hit — a case of Larry H. being Larry H.
Not so for Greg Miller.
He’s not allowed to let emotion overtake him, particularly in the forum he used.
Sometime during the process of typing those 1,380 words and sending them into cyberspace, Miller should have stopped himself. Everything he wrote about Malone being late for an autograph session and missing lunch appointments may have been true. But Miller just came across as petty and bitter in citing those examples of the Mailman being “too unreliable and too unstable” and “having nothing to offer to offset the grief and aggravation that comes with him.”
Miller could have settled for issuing a brief statement that he respectfully disagreed with Malone. Instead, he made it vindictive and personal, turning a one-day local story into a national phenomenon.
That reflects the power and responsibility of Miller’s position. I’ll never forget Layden’s subdued response to Larry Miller’s rage after that four-point defeat 25 years ago.
“He owns the team,” Layden said. “He can do whatever he wants.”
No, he couldn’t. And, no, his son can’t. The Tribune’s follow-up headline in 1987: “Jazz owner learns lesson.”
A quarter-century later, I can only assume that’s true again.