A lot of fans think they know the Jazz because they watch Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert play, they see Quin Snyder coach, they hear Dennis Lindsey speak, and they’re aware of and appreciate Gail Miller sitting court-side as the team’s owner.
All of that is part of the picture, but not the full measure of it.
There are hundreds of people, some of them who do their work completely behind the scenes, who make up the Jazz mosaic — in offices, in team headquarters at the practice facility, at the arena, in the aisles, in the suites, in the kitchens, in the stat rooms, on the concourses, on duty and on watch in and through the bowels of the venue where the Jazz play. Without them, the game experience not only wouldn’t be what it is, it wouldn’t be at all.
One of those people died on Wednesday, taken by one of the monsters of our time — cancer.
And she will be missed.
You might not have known Sylvia Orton, but you should have. You most certainly wish you could have.
She was the fierce and tender guardian, the longtime gatekeeper of the media room at Vivint Arena. To get in, you had to get by her. Nearly all the local Jazz reporters had some rapport with Sylvia. If they were smart, they did. Those who didn’t had to sign their names on a checklist. Those who did, she signed the sheet for them. It was like a badge of honor to have Sylvia grin and wave you in.
And if you were really living, Sylvia let you dig into her dish of assorted candies — Tootsie Rolls, Starbursts, Hershey’s Kisses, Bazooka Double-Bubbles — always there, always atop the stand where she sat, without fail.
“It really wasn’t an official media event without Sylvia’s presence,” said Frank Zang, a communications boss with the Jazz and LHM. “Everyone always spent time visiting with her.”
She was one of those people you knew you liked, even if you didn’t know her all that well. Bestowed with a unique combination of grandmotherly kindness and Rottweiler-ian tenacity, Sylvia was the grande dame of the media room, greeting darn near everybody with a sweet smile and a hint of a growl. She concurrently had a ground-level awareness about her and a regal bearing. Nobody’s fool, everybody’s friend.
I loved the lady. And I wasn’t alone. Almost all those assigned to cover the Jazz were fond of her. Returning visiting reporters got the warm treatment, too. Coaches happily stopped by to chat before a pregame meal. Quin’s wife, Amy, came in with her kids on occasion, all as Sylvia welcomed them as though she were inviting them into her living room.
“I literally think about her every couple of weeks,” said Amy Snyder. “I loved visiting with her. Going to see her was one of my favorite parts of my game routine.”
Sylvia was one of those blessed humans who just made living a little easier, a little more comfortable, a little better. She often asked how my family was doing, and I asked about hers. On a couple of occasions, my wife, Lisa, came to the entrance of the work room, Sylvia’s room, and by the time I emerged, the two of them were laughing and carrying on.
She gave the advice 77 years of living had earned and gained her when that advice was sought after. And when Sylvia spoke, you listened and learned. She seemed to have explored all aspects of life — its joys, its ironies, its hardships. She was smarter than you, and both you and she knew that. But she carried her wisdom with grace, never swinging it like a hammer, only offering it with a soft, open hand.
Sylvia worked Jazz games, and assorted other events to which the media was invited, for more than 22 years. She knew well the job of reporters, broadcasters and print, and the demands of those jobs because she had a newspaper background before joining the Jazz.
She complimented columns and commentaries with which she agreed and questioned the ones with which she disagreed. And, either way, a hug followed.
Sylvia was — and is — emblematic of so many other non-headlining employees who make the Jazz what they are, people who should be recognized and toasted for their contributions, behind the scenes and every once in a while in front of them, to the franchise, to the game experience for those who come to watch Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert play, Quin Snyder coach, Dennis Lindsey speak, and Gail Miller own.
“Sylvia epitomized the sweetness of life,” Zang said.
We’ll miss you, Sylvia. We’ll hoist a Tootsie Roll, a Starburst, a Hershey’s Kiss, a Bazooka Double-Bubble in your honor. And be better off for having known you, those of us who were privileged to have that good fortune. Everybody else wishes they had.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.