The Utah Jazz, under the stewardship of the late Larry Miller and the Miller family, have been one of the steadiest, best-run teams in the NBA. But after 35 years at the helm, the Miller family is stepping aside.
The Millers have reached a deal, and the Utah Jazz — as well as the Vivint Smart Home Arena — have been sold for $1.66 billion to Ryan Smith, a lifelong Utah resident and the founder of Qualtrics. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed soon after by outgoing Jazz owner Gail Miller and the incoming Smith in a press conference.
“There’s no secret in my interest in the NBA,” Smith said in a press conference announcing the deal. “I played Jr. Jazz [youth basketball program]. I dreamed of playing for the Jazz, but that didn’t work out.”
The team will not be moved, something Miller emphasized at the press conference.
Smith gave the impression of a real long-time Jazz fan who just happens to be a billionaire and is getting to live out his dream of owning the team. That could be good for fans of the Jazz, he has the resources to spend on a team that is not far from contending but could be dealing with luxury tax issues to get there.
Smith also has a strong commitment to Black Lives Matter and social justice.
I'm personally matching all employee donations for the next 3 months to Black Lives Matter & NAACP Legal Defense Fund. We expanded to include 5 more orgs. This is one of many initiatives we're working on. We need change now.
Grateful to our team for their donations & love. pic.twitter.com/Md1L8df8Pb
— Ryan Smith (@RyanQualtrics) June 16, 2020
Miller called 2020 an “unexpected journey” but suggested that the coronavirus’s impact on the family businesses made them consider the sale of the team in a way they hadn’t before. The Miller family will maintain a minority ownership position with the club.
“I have known Ryan for several years and admire the values by which he and his wife Ashley live their lives,” Gail Miller in a released statement. “They have such love for and a connection to Utah and this team. Because of our friendship and several high-level conversations over the years, Ryan recently approached our organization to inquire about the possibility of purchasing the Utah Jazz and some of our other sports and entertainment properties. After much soul searching, lengthy discussions and extensive evaluations of our long-term goals, my family and I decided this was the right time to pass our responsibility and cherished stewardship of 35 years to Ryan and Ashley, who share our values and are committed to keeping the team in Utah.
“We have every confidence they will continue the work we have undertaken and move the team to the next level. Our family remains invested in the success of the Utah Jazz and these businesses, and we will retain a minority interest.”
This sale still has to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors (the other owners), but that is likely a formality.
Vivint Arena and the Utah Jazz will host the 2023 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City.