Jazz center Ekpe Udoh and Jazz owner Gail Miller struck an incongruous pair as they sat together in front of an audience at the Zions Bank Basketball Center for the latest “Author’s Talk” edition of “Ekpe’s Book Club.”
Mostly, they were there to discuss Miller’s book, “Courage to be You,” and the team they’re both associated with was scarcely mentioned during the hourlong discussion.
And yet, there was no shortage of interesting tidbits that came up.
A lighthearted tone was struck from the outset when Udoh said to Miller, “Usually we just like to spend time to get to know the author before we really jump into your book. So what do you like to do for fun?” and, without missing a beat, she replied, “I go to basketball games.”
“How have we been doing?” he asked.
“Really good — except for a couple,” she retorted with a grin.
Miller spoke at length about her 44-year marriage to the late Larry H. Miller, a man known throughout Utah not only for his collection of auto dealerships, but for keeping the Jazz in Utah when the team was struggling in the 1980s.
She mentioned that theirs was a true partnership, in spite of her lack of any formal business training — a factor that, in her mind, remains an obstacle to this day.
“The most challenging [thing] at this point in my life, believe it or not, is being looked at as the person in charge,” she said. “I think it’s because I’m a woman and I never worked in business. And so there’s no credibility for my ability to do what I’m doing. I have to really work hard to get that.”
She said there was never an issue with Larry treating her that way.
“We actually were legal partners, and he never never minimized me. He always treated me as a partner,” she said. “And so I always knew what was going on and how he was doing things and why he was doing things, and that made it easier to support him because he did treat me like a partner and gave me a lot of credit for what he did. He would say, ‘I couldn’t do this without you.’ It took me a long time to accept that, but I finally realized he was right.”
After Larry Miller’s death in 2009, son Greg was installed as the CEO of the organization, but Gail Miller found herself increasingly in the spotlight — a role that only increased when Greg eventually stepped down.
She noted that she was somewhat prepared for the role because, after years and years of viewing herself solely as a mother and a housewife, she had gone through therapy, which proved instrumental in helping her realize there was a more complete version of herself just waiting to manifest itself.
“It helped me a lot because I was pretty lonely and I was very shy, and unsure of myself. And when we bought the Jazz, we had to go out to social things; I almost had panic attacks, ’cause I didn’t want to go out where all these high-profile people were. So the therapy helped me learn that I was a whole person, that I had a voice and I should learn to use it and be confident in myself,” Miller said. “… I learned to be more confident and be able to express myself and discover things about myself, that I did have worth and that I was more than just a housewife and a mother or an appendage to Larry.”
She characterized her husband as “the risk-taker” while “I was the more sensible one. But I had a lot of confidence in his ability to do things. He was actually very brilliant and very driven. And I knew that he could do whatever he set his mind out to do. [But] it wasn’t always easy.”
Throughout the evening, audience members asked Miller about her book, and Udoh peppered in a series of “random questions” — What do you think of social media? Artificial intelligence? Universal health care?
“Did you ever ski, snowboard, sled?” he asked at one point.
“You know, I went skiing twice. I only went the second time to prove I didn’t like it,” she replied. “… My problem was I knew I was going to kill somebody. So I quit.”
A thoughtful-looking Udoh put his hand on his chin and conceded he had never tried skiing, but that, “I’ve thought about it.”
“Is it in your contract that you can’t?” Miller asked with a wink, to raucous laughter from those in attendance.