The Miller family saved professional basketball in Utah. Now, it’s up to a graduate of the Junior Jazz program to preserve it.
Ryan Smith, chief executive officer of Qualtrics, announced his plans to purchase the Utah Jazz, the Utah Stars of the G-League, Vivint Smart Home Arena and management of the Salt Lake Bees from the Miller family. The Millers had owned the Jazz for the past 35 years, a stretch that included two trips to the NBA Finals and the construction of their current home arena on 300 West and South Temple in downtown Salt Lake City.
Smith is hoping to add to that legacy, and provide the push that will lead the Jazz to the NBA championship that has eluded them thus far. However, the bigger question is, can he?
You see, success in the NBA isn’t all about money, though Smith has plenty of that. It seems to be more about location, location, location. And, as much as we all love our home here in the Beehive State, the fact of the matter is, it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
We don’t have the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, Miami or New York City. We all laughed at Kevin Durant when he lamented Salt Lake City’s lack of nightlife, but he isn’t wrong. We’re hundreds of miles from the ocean; our temperatures are subfreezing for months on end in the winter; and the national media barely knows we exist, outside of hosting the Olympics 18 years ago.
In short? The Jazz are always going to have problems attracting free-agent talent to come to Utah to help win a championship. They’re lucky that Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell seem to like it here, just as they were lucky to have Karl Malone and John Stockton all those years ago. But as far as getting that third piece to push them over the top? That becomes even unlikelier every year.
It’s a story that’s been written many times over. LeBron James left Cleveland to “take (his) talents to South Beach” when he joined the Miami Heat. He never would have come back to Cleveland if he wasn’t from there. Of course, he eventually left there again to join the league’s flagship franchise with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Carmelo Anthony left the Denver Nuggets, not far removed from a trip to the Western Conference finals, to join the New York Knicks. Durant left Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors, and he’s now a Brooklyn Net. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be on the brink of leaving Milwaukee. Karl-Anthony Towns could leave Minnesota. Paul George forced his way out of Indiana. The list goes on and on.
Talent always leaves small markets. It hardly ever goes to them. Perhaps the Jazz can catch lightning in a bottle with Mitchell and Gobert, but they’re also in a division with dynamic duos in Portland (Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum) and Denver (Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic) that have the same idea.
I wish Smith the best of luck. Nothing would make long-suffering Jazz fans happier than finally seeing their team hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But, if Smith can’t pull it off, it’s not necessarily his fault.
It’s just the way the NBA world works these days.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. Living in Utah might be the right fit for him, but he knows it isn’t for everybody. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.