The Utah Jazz Actually Enjoyed a Lot of Relative Success Under the Miller Family

The Utah Jazz have been a part of the NBA for nearly 50 years. It’s easy to underestimate the team’s success while playing in a small market like Utah. Founded in New Orleans — the name was a more fitting tribute to the region — the Jazz moved to Utah in 1979. A decade later, the original owners sold the team to Larry Miller, who forever changed the team. 

The Millers’ tenure with the Utah Jazz

Larry H. Miller of the Utah Jazz wipes away a tear as he speaks to the media in 2003
An emotional owner Larry H. Miller of the Utah Jazz wipes away a tear as he speaks to the media in 2003 | Kent Horner/NBAE via Getty Images

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An avid sports fan, Miller helped shape the Jazz into a contender. He had a young Karl Malone and John Stockton, reliable role players like Mark Eaton and Jim Les, and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan. However, under Miller’s ownership, the team went on its best streak since its inception. By the late ’90s, Stockton and Malone were going head to head with Jordan’s Bulls. While they failed to get a ring, their success is still legendary. 

By every metric, the Jazz are an overachieving franchise. Since Miller took over in 1989, the team has had 16 50-win seasons. With only a handful of sub-.500 seasons, save for a couple of brief playoff droughts, the team has been in the picture nearly every year. Miller passed away in 2009, reports ESPN, but his family maintained control of the team until recently. 

Changing of the guard

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Gail Miller, the family’s matriarch, had been trying to sell the team since 2017, reports ESPN. Still, she wanted to ensure that whoever bought the team would not do what Clay Bennett did when he bought the Seattle Supersonics with the explicit intention of moving them. Gail told ESPN:

“Now there’s been a lot of attention given in recent years to my putting the team in a legacy trust. This was done in connection with my estate plan, with the objective of assuring our loyal fans that the team would remain in Utah. I am fully convinced that with this sale, the objectives of that trust will still be honored, and I want you to know the new owners have made the same commitment to keep the team in Utah.”

Luckily, she got a buyer in Ryan Smith. He was not only intent on keeping the team in Utah but grew up a Jazz fan who wants them to succeed. “The Jazz are a gift to this whole community, and that’s how we view it,” Smith told ESPN. “That’s 100 percent how we view this.” Despite investing over $1.6 billion into the team, he’s still off to a great start. 

Are the Jazz for real? 

Sitting with a 20-5 record, details Basketball Reference, the Jazz have been the most consistent NBA team in a strange NBA season. Rudy Gobert looks better than he has in quite some time; Jordan Clarkson is having a career season after finally finding a home. With Quin Snyder leading the pack and Dennis Lindsey making the right moves, the Jazz might be genuine contenders. It would be the first time since Stockton and Malone dominated the West in the late ’90s. 

While the team is under new ownership, the Miller family helped elevate the Jazz from the bottom of the league. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess. Still, while the tides have turned in ownership, Larry Miller’s commitment to winning remains intact years after he passed away and under a new owner, too.