Any suggestion that the Jazz could draw 12,000-plus fans to a Summer League game would have seemed crazy in the mid-1980s, when the franchise rarely sold out the Salt Palace for regular-season games.
That context is important in recognizing how the Jazz have become such a major element of Utah’s culture, and that history is captured well by former Jazz staff member Michael G. Snarr in a new book. “Long Shots and Layups: Memories and Stories from the Golden Era of the Utah Jazz” is one of those projects that began as a journal for the benefit of Snarr’s family and turned into a story that deserved to be shared.
Snarr spent nearly 30 years (1986-2015) working in sponsorship sales for the Jazz, with name-rights deals among his most recognizable efforts. His writing could serve as a textbook about marketing and how a professional sports franchise operates, but it more fun to read than that description suggests. A salesperson has to be a good storyteller, and Snarr’s presentation is entertaining, with an insider’s tales about John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jerry Sloan, among others.
Snarr loves basketball, and that passion clearly comes through in “Long Shots and Layups.” One caution, though: There’s not enough “basketball” in this book to satisfy the avid Jazz fan, who’s less interested in what happened in the sales department.
Yet, what was interesting to me as I read the book is how much I kept looking forward to more stories about Snarr’s work with potential sponsors, as opposed to the team’s chronology on the court. Maybe because I knew how those games and seasons turned out, I found myself cheering for him to lock up another deal.
Among my favorite stories was how Jazz officials worried about the inevitable kidding about EnergySolutions’ name-rights sponsorship of the former Delta Center in 2005. I always believed the jokes about hazardous-waste disposal would subside quickly, and that proved true.
More recently, Snarr completed the name-rights deal for what’s now known as the Zions Bank Basketball Campus, built around the team’s practice facility. That was a tougher sell, with less visibility, but he succeeded.
The best stories stem from the ’80s, when the Jazz were still trying to establish themselves in Utah after the late Larry H. Miller’s emotion-driven purchase of the franchise. Having lived through that era, I admire what Snarr and his co-workers dealt with in a market that was slow to embrace the NBA. They made it work, with one corporate sponsorship after another.
My only criticism of “Long Shots and Layups” is the kind of flaws I also found in recent books by Stockton and Mark Eaton — too many imprecise recollections of games and, in this case, misspellings of players’ names (Mehmet Occur? Julius Irving?) and incorrect details. But that’s minor quibbling, in the context of Snarr’s stories that Jazz fans of this century need to know to fully appreciate what a fixture this franchise has become.