NBA: Miller family selling Utah Jazz to local entrepreneur

Field Level Media/Reuters

Posted at Oct 29 2020 09:30 AM

NBA: Miller family selling Utah Jazz to local entrepreneur 1
Donovan Mitchell (45) of the Utah Jazz reacts after making a 3-point basket against the Denver Nuggets. File photo. Ashley Landis, Getty Images/AFP

The Utah Jazz are being sold to Ryan Smith, the co-founder of a Provo, Utah, technology company.

The move was announced Wednesday by Gail Miller, who with her late husband, Larry, bought the team in the mid-1980s. A purchase price was not disclosed, but Sportico pegged it at $1.6 billion.

The sale includes the majority interest in the NBA club, Vivint Arena, the Salt Lake City Stars of the G-League and management of the Triple-A baseball Salt Lake Bees.

The Miller family is retaining ownership of the Bees.

"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," Gail Miller said. 

"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."

Smith started Qualtrics in 2002 with his father and brother, then sold it last year but remains CEO. Qualtrics is the sponsor of the team's jersey patch, which reads 5 For The Fight instead of the company name.

Smith co-founded 5 For The Fight, which crowdfunds for cancer research by inviting everyone to donate $5. The cause has raised more than $25 million since the patch partnership began three years ago.

The deal is subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors, which is expected to take place by the end of the year. Upon closing of the transaction, Smith become the NBA governor for the team and will have the final say on all business and basketball operations decisions.

He also plans to acquire The Zone Sports Network from the Miller family in a separate transaction.

"The Miller family has had an unbelievable impact on countless people through the Utah Jazz and the other organizations they run," Smith said. 

"We all owe a great debt to the Miller family for the amazing stewardship they have had over this asset for the past 35 years. My wife and I are absolutely humbled and excited about the opportunity to take the team forward far into the future - especially with the greatest fans in the NBA," he added. 

"The Utah Jazz, the state of Utah, and its capital city are the beneficiaries of the Millers' tremendous love, generosity and investment. We look forward to building upon their lifelong work."

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The Jazz were founded in New Orleans in 1974 and moved to Salt Lake City five years later. Larry and Gail Miller bought 50 percent of the team in May 1985 to prevent it from leaving Utah, then bought the remaining half the following year.

Larry Miller passed away in 2009 at age 64. He earned his wealth through car dealerships and other businesses.

Under coaches Frank Layden and Jerry Sloan, the Jazz reached the NBA playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons between 1983 and 2003, losing in the finals in back-to-back seasons to the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and '98.

They have made the playoffs the past four seasons, twice losing in the Western Conference semifinals.