In case you hadn’t heard, Utah Jazz owner Greg Miller invited a few fans to attend the Jazz vs. Pistons game with him on Monday evening.
I was one of those fans, and I gotta admit – I was a little hesitant on accepting the offer. Let me fill you in on a bit of my sports fandom..
My first love is football with basketball falling at a close second. I am a longtime Oakland Raiders and Utah Jazz fan. When they suck, I take to social media to vent. When they’re doing good, I take to social media and brag. The recent slump the Jazz were in had me more frustrated than anything, because they were playing solid teams, holding their own, but losing the game by losing a big lead or losing by a point or two.
After losing seven of nine games, I took my frustration to Twitter where I let it be known that I was not happy with the team. After conversing with fellow Jazz fans, who were also frustrated, I calmed down and things went back to normal. It’s just a game. I went to the gym on Sunday afternoon and was watching the Thunder and Celtics game there. With about five minutes left in the game, the Celtics decided to turn it up a little and threatened the Thunder’s lead.
I hopped on Twitter and said something to the tune of “The Thunder are about to lose this lead like they’re the Jazz.” I quickly deleted the tweet, deciding to tag Jazz owner Greg Miller. So I sent it out, with Greg’s handle. I got some feedback from other fans that agreed with my view, so I took it a step further and told the fans to tweet at Greg, letting him know we were frustrated with the recent slump. That was that.
The day went on, the Thunder found a way to win it, and I then watched the Lakers grab the eighth playoff spot that we have been fighting for.
I went to bed Sunday night, and woke up to a tweet from Greg. I was expecting a tweet telling me to calm down or stick it out, but it was a tweet telling me he had an open invite to join him at the game. Courtside.
The thing was, I wasn’t the only one that got an invite. There were two other fans that were invited too, both of which had been pretty critical on Twitter of the recent slump. So, the first thing I thought – “What kind of setup is this? What is the motive” I responded back to him with the requested information, thinking that if it weren’t real I wouldn’t be missing out on anything, and if it were, I’d be able to talk to him about it all from a fans point of view.
I received a call from his secretary a little while after responding. She made sure I was who I said I was, gathered a bit of information and told me Greg would be waiting for me to meet him at 6 PM sharp.
“Oh crap, this is real”. I immediately told my wife, “Remember when I got mad at the Jazz the other night? Well, the owner has summoned me to meet with him.”
I was nervous throughout the day, I’m not going to lie.
When it was time to head out there, the nervousness grew. I was actually headed out to meet with Greg Miller. I was running a bit late to Energy Solutions Arena thanks to a vehicle rollover on the way in, so here comes more nervousness as I am late to meet him when I was told to be there at 6 sharp.
I got to the will call booth and grabbed my credentials. The woman at the booth handed me a pass and told me to head to the doors. I was expecting to head to the normal floor and find my way there. Nope. I was led directly to the Lexus Suite, where a hostess led me to a table that said “Owned by Greg Miller”. He wasn’t there yet, or so I thought. The hostess headed over to another table, patiently waited for a tall gentleman to finish his conversation and told him that someone was there to see him. I realized that the 44 oz Mountain Dew I slammed on the way in decided it needed to make it’s way out, so I headed to the restroom. After taking care of business, I headed over to the table where I was asked to sit, and Greg was there chatting with Ashley, another fan that received an invite.
(The previously mentioned fans that were originally invited didn’t follow through, so Greg invited two more. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Ashley and Alan for the night as well, who were awesome company through it all.)
I get there, and I was a bit relieved that Ashley had shown up in that short amount of time. Greg introduced himself, and then Ashley and we sat down to talk. I was probably sweating bullets, because I was here after criticizing the team and I was face to face with the owner, and he didn’t seem bothered. After Alan arrived and we did our introductions Greg invited us to make our plates. We hit the buffet, and it was loaded. All kinds of seafood, vegetable trays, egg rolls, prime rib, excellent food.
Making our way back to the table, Greg striked up conversation thanking us for joining him and asked if we had any questions. I immediately asked why he chose us, and why the three people he first invited were called upon after criticizing the team. He said that he was feeling generous, and wanted to hang out with the fans. He wasn’t here to call anyone out and that he liked a passionate fan. Ones that speak out and are emotionally connected to the team. He then talked about being a big fan himself, and not letting it get the best of him and lashing out publicly like his father, the late-great Larry H. Miller used to do. He said that it never got anywhere with screaming and yelling and tossing things around, so he keeps a level head.
He wanted to reach out to some fans, hang out and have a good time, and that’s exactly what we did.
After he talked about him being as big a fan as we were and letting me know I wasn’t there because I had criticized the team, I was much more comfortable. He assured me that he didn’t invite anyone to call them out or make them uncomfortable, so from that point on it was smooth sailing.
We had a nice dinner and a round-table discussion on various topics from Free Agency in the NBA to Star Wars, as Alan is a big fan. We got to know Greg on a bit of a personal level, which was really awesome. He wasn’t the straight forward business only guy that many would expect him to be. He’s a big fan of the game and has to find a way to balance his ownership and fandom.
One of the more interesting things I gathered from dinner was a story of Michael Jordan, which I plan on sharing with you all a bit later. Another great piece of insight we grabbed was the structure of the organization. Greg let us know point blank that they aren’t in ownership for the money. They value the team as a community asset and building block. He mentioned that if it were about the money, they could have easily sold the team for upwards of half a billion dollars. Similar to the Sacramento-to-Seattle deal that is happening.
The Jazz are about bringing a championship to Utah. He gave us a run-down of how Dennis Lindsey and Kevin O’Connor run things. They are the ones in charge of all basketball operations, they control the scouting, the workouts, the contracts – all of it. Of course Greg has the final say after everything is prepared and presented to him, but he doesn’t step on toes of those in charge because if he did he could no longer hold them accountable.
He gave us an inside look at the Deron Williams deal, explaining it from the viewpoint of the front office. I for one was upset at the trade (at the time), and perked up to listen to it. Kevin O’Connor strategized it, planned it, and presented it to Greg who made the ultimate decision. He said it was a tough deal, but the compensation was un-refusable. With the assets gained from New Jersey, we were able to pick up pieces for the future.
We also talked about the young guys on the team, Greg saying that everyone is really fired up for the future. With the core group of young players we have, a few pieces need filling and we can be on our way – he also added that every other team in the league is thinking and doing the same thing, raising the bar of competitiveness.
As a fan, it gave me a greater respect for the organization from the inside out, not staring at it from the outside in. Will I still be outspoken at times? Probably. I’ve been that way since the days I got my diaper changed at the Salt Palace. But I’ll be a lot more understanding of the inner-workings of it all.
We were each presented with a special commemorative edition Jazz “note” pin that was made when his father Larry passed away and given our tickets to the game. We finished dinner, talked a little more about random things and headed to the court.
It was amazing to me that the Arena basement was so huge. Of course I’ve seen it on TV, but being there in the lower level was something else. On our way to the court we made a pit stop at the locker room where we each took some photos with Greg , then it was off to the floor.
As we made our way out of the tunnel, head coach Ty Corbin was there to greet us. We shook hands with him and him and Greg had a short conversation.
As a young kid, I always had a dream I was going to come out of the tunnel, of course as a member of the team, but this was a nice trade.
We entered the arena floor and immediately the first thing I thought was “Holy crap this place is small!” From the floor, you have a different view of ESA. You can see everything. You’re right there in the middle of it all and it doesn’t seem that big. I’ve sat at the top a few times, and it makes the court look small but the arena look big. It fit though, seeing it from a different view just as I did when talking to Greg.
We made our way to our seats and none of us sat down right away. Out came three phones and we started snapping photos. I felt as if I were the paparazzi. No more than ten feet away from me the team was warming up. It was still surreal.
After a few photos we sat down and took it all in. We were there, mid-court on the floor, sitting with the owner. Whoa.
The game got started and it was crazy. The amount of physicality on the court is intense. On TV you see a few guys running around, 25 rows up you see guys running around with a bit more intensity, five feet away from you you see guys practically trying out for the UFC. It give you a different viewpoint from the refs too, sometimes you see something and curse them for not calling a play. If they called everything they see on the floor, we’d probably still be sitting there watching.
I used to say basketball wasn’t much of a physical sport. I won’t be saying that again.
Speaking of the refs, another thing that stood out to me was how they treated the players. We had the luxury of watching Tony Brothers, 36 David Jones and Haywoode Workman officiate the game. Jones and Workman were pretty good, but Brothers was in a bad mood. He must have woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something, it was pretty funny.
Two minutes into the game Brandon Knight was called for a foul that Greg Monroe didn’t agree with. He walked over to Brothers and argued the call a bit, Brothers didn’t want anything to do with him, told him to get out of his face (to be fair to Monroe, he wasn’t overboard on his argument) and proceeded to go tell the stats desk the call. When he walked back to the line, Monroe attempted to argue again when Brothers screamed at him “Don’t talk. Don’t talk to me again!” Monroe responded with, “I can’t even talk?” and Brothers fired back “No! Don’t talk to me about it again or I’ll ‘T-2 your ass'”.
That opened my eyes a bit as a fan, when I see a player arguing with the ref I usually assume it’s all on the player and he should chill out. Seeing that made me side a bit more with the players, because the refs can truly instigate it and push the issue, so that was pretty interesting.
Back to the game.
When we sat down for the game to begin, before I knew it the first quarter was over. I blinked, and it was halftime. Ashley, Alan and I were shocked by the speed of the game. At home I can cook dinner, eat it, and clean up the mess during the game. At the game, at that level it absolutely flew by. We were stunned at how fast the game is actually played. The way the players get back on defense, the way things set up – it was just abnormal. Players are flying on the court like it’s an Olympic sprint event.
I’ve sat low in the lower bowl quite a few times at the ESA, but the game has a different feel to it when you’re resting your feet on the court. I sat a few seats behind the Lakers bench in the 2008 Playoffs and that was thrilling. The game was fast and high paced as a playoff game is expected to be, but the extra ten feet closer paired with being center court instead of off to one end is noticeably different.
At halftime we headed back to the Lexus Suites and had a beer, which was awesome because I wasn’t paying eight bucks a beer, that was included with the gig as well. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to the arena without a beer budget. I had to drive home, so I didn’t go overboard – but it was worth noting the free beer.
The Jazz led at the half 51-37 so we were feeling pretty good about it. Well, as good as we could feel knowing that it could easily be chipped away as we’ve seen in the past, but we controlled the majority of the game. The flow of the team was great, and during the second half I started to notice just how much the assistant coaches are involved.
Ty Corbin kept strolling past us throughout the night, and in the first half the team seemed on edge. They were having fun, but they had a bit of a dagger to them. After the half, they were different. I watched closely the interaction assistants Sidney Lowe and Jeff Hornacek had with the team. Sidney would stand up with the biggest smile on his face when one of the young guys would make a big defensive play and throw the fist pump. He was very interactive with the players in a fun way, it was cool to watch.
Hornacek had a little laughter to him as well, but he was more of the Jerry Sloan coaching type. He was having a good time, but remained serious. I couldn’t help but notice how he had a connection with the younger guys. Everytime Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors would come off the floor, Jeff was right there giving them little tips. I never really paid any attention to the interaction between the assistants and the players, so that was cool to see up close.
The team played at the same intensity, but they definitely seemed a little more calm – until the fourth quarter. The Pistons ended up pulling the game to within six with about five minutes left, and based off the recent slump I wasn’t surprised. But instead of lose the lead and fall victim to another collapse, they turned stone cold again, re-focused and went out on the court with that dagger type attitude. Mo Williams banged in a big three and it pretty much sealed the deal.
The game ended with a Jazz victory, streamers went flying and Greg and the players hit the locker room. Ashley, Alan and I stayed on the court for a minute after taking it all in. I can’t speak for them, but standing there even after the game it was pretty surreal. I knew I was there, it just didn’t seem like it.
We said our goodbyes and headed on our separate ways. I was a little bummed I didn’t get a chance to thank Greg again after the game. So Greg, if you’re reading, thanks again. It was awesome.
I headed back to the tunnel and I was on my way.
This was truly one of those lifelong memories that I’ll never forget. Even if I hit the lottery or become a billionaire and end up buying my own team, this is one of those things that will be forever etched into my mind. Greg was a great host, and he did what other NBA owners might not have done.
He assured me that they are in this thing for the long haul, and at times things will be rough – but knowing he is just as big of a fan as I am makes me know he truly cares about the team and not just bringing in money. Seeing it from a different point of view really opened my eyes not only to the dedication this team has, but the great structure Greg has in place.
Guest post from Sports-Kings NFL Manager – Justin Arbogast @NFLGuy_SK