That sort of bifurcated understanding of a complex man may strike a chord with many readers of City Weekly. Although this publication draws patrons from a wide variety of backgrounds, ages and views, there’s no doubt many readers saw Miller as the highly visible personification of the Mormon, white, conservative, Republican, male power structure that runs this state—in other words, everything they don’t like about living in Utah. Miller appointed himself community censor when he yanked Brokeback Mountain from his theaters in January 2006. He bought a TV station and ran programming about LDS Church founder Joseph Smith on it. He threw several notable public temper tantrums, some of which resulted in him calling his employees (professional athletes) names. He once told a fan he could kick him out of the arena because he owned all the seats. He drew attention to himself during the playoffs for his pious refusal to attend Sunday games.
But many readers also pick up City Weekly to find out what’s going on around town, and the great irony is that a 1985 meeting between Miller and later-to-be-appointed LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley may have done more for downtown nightlife than any force in the past 25 years. That meeting has become part of Utah’s business-community mythology. Miller reportedly told Hinckley he was prepared to make the incredibly gutsy move of buying an NBA franchise that had only ever lost money, had never done particularly well on the floor or at the box office, and was playing in a league that was only beginning to emerge from drug scandals and irrelevance.
He hoped to do this in the name of keeping the team in his hometown. Hinckley told Miller to go ahead because having an NBA team in Utah would be good public relations.
One result of that move is a bevy of restaurants, bars and clubs that benefit from Utah Jazz fans. Miller got a major arena built in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City—not Sandy—which gives people one more reason to make downtown an evening destination.
EnergySolutions Arena also serves as a venue for major rock, pop and hip-hop acts. Any of us who enjoys an evening out in downtown Salt Lake City should at some point raise a toast to Miller.
By stepping in to buy the Jazz when no one else would, Miller saved something that afforded Utahns a common identity—regardless of the many differences and disagreements they might otherwise have about how things should be run around here. After all, what is the only group in Utah that has more members than the LDS Church? Jazz fans. If nothing else, Miller gave us something to talk about at work other than religion.
Miller is the most important sports figure in Utah history, and one of the most important figures in the state regardless of category, because his impact went far beyond sports. In many ways, he represented just what’s possible in this state. A member of the Republican-Mormon power structure can create something people who want nothing to do with either of those groups can enjoy. Miller gave us something people from either side of Utah’s cultural-political-religious divide can join together and cheer for. If it weren’t for Larry Miller, all of the Jazz moments we’ve shared over the past 25 years would have happened somewhere else. If nothing else, we should all be grateful that never happened.
Public funeral services will be held for Larry H. Miller on Saturday, Feb. 28, at noon in the EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple in Salt Lake City. Geoff Griffin is a regular contributor to City Weekly.