I was late. I knew it.
I raced into the arena, collected my tickets from will-call, and headed to the stairwell leading to the corridors downstairs. Being late is my signature though. It’s the norm. This was not the night for it though.
I began to walk down the corridor, in search of the Lexus Club, my destination. And after a short jaunt, I arrived.
“Welcome to the Lexus Club, who are you with?” The hostess smiled as she welcomed me.
The name made me chuckle to myself. I, Alan “Jedi” Zaugg, was sitting down and having dinner with Utah Jazz owner Greg Miller. The reality hadn’t really set in yet. I mean, I had only dreamed of a moment like this. And to think, now, it’s actually happening. A sudden air of confidence slowly entered my frame.
I scanned the room briefly as I entered. Straight ahead were a couple of buffet tables. The room itself had a warm, inviting feel to it. Once having entered the room, I was led to a table in the corner to the left, where Greg, Ashly, and Justin (the other two invited guests) were seated. I approached the table, apprehensive and excited.
I was greeted by Greg with a handshake and brief introduction. A smile and greeting from Ashly and a brief introduction to Justin.
And so the evening began…
For any sports fan, an opportunity like this is rare. Once in a lifetime. Not only to sit at a Jazz game with the owner of their favorite team, but the chance to spend a few moments, in an intimate setting, and discuss life, business, basketball and much more. It’s not something that happens all too often.
Immediately the discussion begins with Ashly suggesting I share my interview experience with Utah Jazz President Randy Rigby only months earlier at the start of the season. I was taken back a bit. I’m barely sitting down and I’m on the spot already (Note: Jedi on the spot… Jedi trips over his own words). So I recounted the experience, including informing Greg of my friendship with Randy. Apparently that was the ice-breaker for my evening, because from that point on the discussion was comfortable. Like having dinner with friends.
One of the very first things that I took from our brief conversation on this occasion was Greg’s deep respect and love for his father. It’s been four years since the passing of his father. But it’s very apparent the legacy left behind and still very much honored to this day. Although the conversation never centered around Larry, as Greg explained the few details about the decision making process of the front office concerning basketball affairs, it was apparent his imprint and legacy still lives on with his son. Greg explained that many people prefer the way his father handled basketball operations, specifically his assertion in the locker room.
But Greg explained that it was experiences such as that, that molded him into what he is. You see Greg is a businessman. It’s apparent. And the one part about business that he sees as important is delegation. He feels it unnecessary to assert himself into basketball operations, when he hires others who have a better understanding of the game to do it for him. Of course that doesn’t mean he isn’t involved in the process, but only if the situation requires it.
Greg spoke of the new Collective Bargaining agreement and the positives it brings for teams such as the Utah Jazz in remaining competitive in an ever changing NBA landscape. He spoke of the challenges that the Salt Lake City market poses in bringing big name free agents here. No secret there for any of us.
He talked of what it would take to build a championship team in Utah. When I asked him about luring free agents to Utah, his response, establish a competitive, winning environment and players will want to play for you. Everyone wants to play on the winning team. He likened it to a pickup game of basketball. You have two teams. Everyone wants to play for the “stacked” team. Why? Because they are going to win. Every time.
So, my understanding from all of this… the task at hand, for the Utah Jazz, is to re-establish the winning atmosphere. And by so doing, your product will do the selling for you.
He then spoke of the faith and confidence he had in both Kevin O’Connor and Dennis Lindsey in building that competitive, winning team. He especially pointed to Lindsey’s experience with the Spurs and Rockets and the championship experience he brings to the Jazz organization. And yes, he spoke of patience in the process.
Another important fact that stood out to me from both the conversation and being court-side with him… Greg is as much a basketball fan as anyone is. He is passionate about the game. He loves the Jazz. He has an understanding of the game. He would even take time during the game to point out intricate details that one wouldn’t notice without studying the game closely. And, sitting that close, you would expect one to study things a little more closely than others.
And finally, on a more personal note, I had no idea how much of a Star Wars fan Greg was. He spent a few moments with me discussing the movies. He asked what my favorite movie of the six was. Then he proceeded to tell me his favorite character. His favorite is Qui-Gon Jinn. He explained how he quotes Qui-Gon often in business presentations and meetings.
Yeah… forget Jazz basketball, you talk Star Wars with me and you’ve got my respect and friendship for life.
Once our brief discussion had concluded, Greg led us down the corridor towards the arena. We stopped briefly to take pictures. And then made our way to the entrance of the tunnel. Our paths crossed that of the coaching staff. And each of us were met with a welcoming hand shake and warm greeting from Ty Corbin, to which we replied with “good luck.”
As for the game, well, I’m still in awe. It was an eye opening experience. Many of you have heard me speak of the speed and physicality of the game. These are athletes of a level I’ve not ever seen in person. Yeah, we see then on television or from our perches in the stands, but up close is so much different. The play on the court is so physical. I felt like I needed an ice bath afterwards just to calm the eye bruising I took in this game, and I wasn’t even playing!
In an instance, I watched the offense unfold with lightening speed. What caught my attention right away was a play that unfolded on our side of the court, Mo Williams dribbled to or side quickly, using a screen to get free. When there wasn’t anything available, he changed directions and using a re-screen drove to the middle of the key and stopped and popped a 15 footer. It happened in a blur. The movements of all involved were so deliberate, so precise. There was very little error.
That’s how the game seemed to flow from there. So precise were the movements and plays on the court, I almost felt I was watching gods playing basketball out there. No human moves with such agility. No human is so precise and deliberate in running the floor.
The other thing about the game that stood out was just how much talking goes on. Not just between players, but also between referees and players. In fact, I was quite surprised at the attitude of… I wanna say slight arrogance that seemed to be about the referees. Tony Brothers was the lead official on this night and he seemed to have a short fuse when it came to the talk. If it wasn’t Greg Monroe it was Mo Williams, or someone else.
In fact one particular moment late in the game featured a stop in play. A foul had been called and the ball was being reset on the sideline. Mo Williams stopped and headed to the scorers table to wipe his feet off. Tony Brothers sharply asked “Where are you going? Get back on the court!” To which the reply from a defensive Mo Williams came, “I’m wiping my feet off, hold on a minute!” And Brothers responded, “I don’t care, get back on the court!”
Later, Brothers even got into it with a fan warning that he would have them thrown out if they continued their banter with him.
I was intrigued by Ty Corbin as well. He is a teacher. A professor. Sure his goal is to win ballgames, but so is the improvement of his players. He teaches and molds. And his players give heed. It’s apparent the respect the players have for him. They listen intently to what he has to say and look to him for guidance throughout the game. And its obvious he wants to win and so does the team.
The night just wouldn’t be complete, however, without a Jazz win. And the team did not disappoint.
It was a perfect evening. And while I was razzed for being on my phone (yes, I was and well, I have no rebuttal or excuse), I lived a dream. And for but a small moment in time I got to see into the life and personality of a man that carries a fairly large mantle upon his shoulders. I got to see the NBA game at an up close and intimate level. And developed a deep respect for Greg Miller.
This may have been a chance meeting. Or maybe it was luck that found me here. But, in honor of the host of the night, I prefer to use the words of Qui-Gon Jinn:
“Finding him was the will of the force. I have no doubt of that.” – (Star Wars Episode1: The Phantom Menace)
Thank you Greg Miller, for an evening I’ll never forget.