07 January 2012
Greg Miller escorted us to where all the behind-the-scenes action happens in Energy Solutions Arena, and as we came to the first tunnel-turn, there was Utah Jazz legend Frank Layden making his way in preparation for a birthday party with 19,502 other fans of the Jazz. Frank was the first man in charge at the franchise that I became aware of as a young fan of the team, as the always-visible and vocal head coach at the time. I thought I might be nervous to rub noses with living legends such as these, but Greg -- funny, I feel comfortable calling him in the familiar now as opposed to before -- quite literally made feeling uncomfortable impossible.
In fact, I was deeply disappointed when Jerry Sloan took over for Frank, it taking some two to three years for me to warm up to him as the bench general. Silly in hindsight, I know, but I used to rant about Jerry all the time as a frustrated young Jazz fan. Frank was every bit the man he presents himself as to the public -- witty, likable, insightful. It was truly an honor for me to be able to shake his hand and chat for a moment about the recent Mascot Bowl he and Tony Parks did together for charity.
We were treated like kings as we entered the Lexus Club, hats and coats taken for us as we were escorted to Greg's table, his seat situated so that he had a view of the entire room as well as all comers and go'ers (it's an old trick of savvy gunslingers to sit with their back to the wall where they can survey the scene unfolding before them at all times).
One of the most striking things about Greg Miller is how he comes across as such a regular dude, truly a talent for a man in his prominent position. He was quite open and frank about himself, the franchise, the players, or any and all questions we asked him -- not a one of which was refused or met with a "no comment." We were quite literally a part of the inner-workings of the Utah Jazz this glorious evening (Pro Tip: If you wanna see Greg glow, know your Land Cruisers. He has some great stories about his adventures off the beaten trail).
I feel confident in saying that during the recent lockout the Utah Jazz were not "hawks" (during the lockout franchise owners were dubbed "doves," those who favored few system changes, and "hawks," those who pushed hard for a hard cap, believing it would benefit their market more), despite speculations to the contrary. The Jazz are quite realistic about certain market limitations they inevitably toil under, knowing that no system can change these realities. It was exactly as they said it was as the lockout unfolded, the Jazz brass more or less just waiting to see how it shook out, prepping for any scenario presented them. As they always have.
Rather than try and change the direction of the breeze, the Jazz instead build sails to take full advantage of whichever way the wind blows.
One of the more brilliant cogs in the wheel that is the Miller Group is president Randy Rigby, a man of whom I'm a big fan of. Many of you have probably seen the Twitter transcripts I've often done of Mr. Rigby's weekly chats with the flagship at 1320 KFAN, so it was a great pleasure to be able to walk up and say "Mr. Fan Man himself, Randy Rigby!" shake his hand as I introduce myself as "the green basketball on Twitter, Clintonite33," and have him smile and reply, "Oh yeah! Great to finally meet you!"
Mr. Rigby likes to tease upcoming things in his radio time, and I must say he doesn't mess around when it comes to getting them done, from the great banner on the front of ESA to his preseason proclamations that the franchise was going to go out of their way to treat the fans right after the turmoil and inefficacy of the lockout. Look where we ended up, after all. Randy is absolutely one of the most delightful people you could ever hope to meet, his demeanor belying his tenacity and ability to multi-task for the Miller Group. Indeed, I commented to Greg that it felt from afar that Rigby does the work of ten men. Turns out I may have underestimated that, even. Randy Rigby is truly one of the "good guys," and has a tremendous value to the franchise in many, many capacities, not the least of which is the way he looks out for you, the fan.
The Jazz are embracing the social media movement more than ever before this year, so if you like to participate in these most momentous of sports platforms don't be surprised if you too one day receive the fan message of a lifetime for your sincere fandom -- represent well and you could be next. Personally, the Jazz keep topping themselves in my book, unbelievably.
If you think your voice isn't being heard, I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. When Larry H. Miller opened the Delta Center he gave the Jazz to the community, a tradition held close to the heart and carried forth with conviction from this the next generation. Larry had an enormous impact on Greg's values and commitment, and while he may seem aloof to fans at times, he is not. When you have a chance to speak with him about the Jazz in private the sincerity and passion for the franchise emanates from him with a gleam in his eye. This was a gift to the fans of basketball and people of Utah that the Miller Group takes seriously upon themselves to continue to provide top-shelf entertainment for many years to come, the complexity of which is simply staggering.
When we met Greg at the doors of the ESA my eyes were immediately drawn to something. SOMETHING SHINY! As dinner and chit-chat wound down Greg presented each of us with a token of appreciation for being loyal ambassadors for the game and the Jazz -- a lapel pin to match his own, that something shiny! I had no qualms about it as I pierced the virgin collar of my best white button-up, feeling like a prized pet must that was just dressed in a diamond-studded collar by a proud owner and best friend.
As we made our way further down the VIP confines of ESA toward the floor for a game about to tip off, Greg continued to regale us with tales of his Jazz-hood, proudly detouring us to the locker room tunnel to elaborate on a story of how Larry demonstrated the deepest of desires night in and night out for his beloved club. Hanging on the wall as a reminder to every player and coach who enters or exits is the mantra of the Utah Jazz:
"Nobody laid down, nobody quit,
nobody left anything in the locker room.
It was all out there on the floor...
I've always said to our guys,
'I'll never ask you to win, but I will ask you
to give us everything you've got.'"
-Larry H. Miller
As we listened intently to how Greg has incorporated this into not only his philosophy on the Jazz, but also life, we became aware of someone quietly occupying the space behind us, as we were taking up the entire carpeted tunnel. We turned to see Raja Bell patiently waiting for us to be done with our detour. Naturally, we all quickly apologized and made way, seeing as he was supposed to be out there and all with the game only moments from tip off. He simply smiled as he whispered "Thanks," and hustled off to join the team.
Greg warned beforehand that come game-time he didn't interact much, instead focusing on the play. Some of you noted this during the game, commenting on it. He cannot because he has duties in the locker room at halftime and post-game that he must attend to, and needs be prepared to contribute to for the betterment of the team and franchise, just another example of his commitment. He and Randy Rigby meet for several hours every business day and discuss the direction of things and how they can improve on every facet of the Miller Group.
Making one's way out of the tunnel the Jazz do every home game and onto the floor is a surreal experience I'll never forget and relish my entire life. I think it was David that turned and said, "Look, they're right there!" as we passed arm's length from the Jazz players getting final instructions from the coaching staff as we made our way to the best seats in the house.
And then it was real...
Some Surround-Sound Sneaker-Squeaker Game Notes:
• Ty Corbin never sits down, never stops shouting out instructions, often making his way animatedly to halfcourt on the sideline. He's also giving Thurl Baily a run for his money as "Best Dressed Jazzman"
• Sydney Lowe shouts out defensive assignments, opposing picks, and transition-D encouragement all the way across the court from the bench. He's really into this D-thing the Jazz have going
• Tony Allen is even more hilarious in person than on Twitter. First whistle directed at him he pointed at the official walking straight at him as he laughed maniacally. The Memphis Grizzlies wing was intense the entire time out there, always making the most of his minutes. It was highly entertaining to watch him
• Ty Corbin tried a facilitator role early with Gordon Hayward, a strategy that's worked well of late for stretches. Sadly, G-Time was kinda off his game this night, but he never quit trying
• Devin Harris oozes a quiet confidence as a leader. This is quite a different kind of intensity than we were used to from Deron Williams
• Al Jefferson is amazingly focused out there this year, on both ends of the floor. Marc Gasol ended up with a very nice line, but nothing was easy for him, he was made to work for what he got. Al's eyes never left his man on defense whenever his man was in the play
A short aside:
It occurred to me during this game, as I was up close and personal with the lines of commincation, that sometimes what fans perceive as Jefferson ball-hogging is actually by design, the offense Corbin has designated for a stretch. At these times, in isolation situations, there isn't supposed to be any cutting by other Jazzmen, as Al does what he does best, create a shot in the post, and he's one of the best at doing this.
It was quite plain to see Ty Corbin react when a player went outside the game plan on a particular play -- Ty was never shy about berating the man for that. He didn't do this to Al in these stretches, but did call him over for a missed assignment or movement elsewhere during the game. We may need to fundamentally change the way we view some roles for players under Ty Corbin. And hey, so long as it's working, what do we care how he gets the job done, right?
That said, I still wouldn't mind seeing Al pass out of a few more of those double-teams -- the Grizz doubled the Jazz post man a lot last night, converting several of those pressure situations into points.
• And speaking of dimes... Paul Millsap is a MAN, y'all! I love a good pass, and I love it even more when it comes from a big man. He'd have four beauties in the flow last night
• In the second quarter, with the game close at 43-44, Mike Conley went for a layup that Paul Millslapp'd. Before heading to the other end of the floor, Paul gave him a deliberate man's staredown, as if you to say, "Yeah, you gonna try that again my house?"
• The Jazz led the NBA in blocks-per-game heading into last night. They'd pad their league lead with 10 more, now at 7.9 per game, Millsap, Hayward, Jefferson, and Favors adding a pair each, with Harris and CJ Miles each netting one
• The Jazz are 10th in the NBA in steals at 8.9 per game, adding 10 more total to their tally last evening
• Defensive standouts were almost too numerous to name. The entire team did their jobs well there, but Josh Howard on Rudy Gay, Earl Watson on Mike Conley (Earl also had his best offensive game this season, and was barking out defensive assignments even as he was walking to the scorer's table to check in), and Enes Kanter on Marc Gasol stand out. Gasol gave Kanter fits at EuroBasket, and it's clear Big Turkey learned a lot from his summer experience there
• You can visibly see Kanter improving with each passing minute, gaining confidence and getting more comfortable in the NBA and Utah Jazz game flow. Whenever Corbin called Enes over, he would listen intently, nodding and responding with "Okay, coach," then go try to make it happen
• Ty Corbin has a new spark plug: Alec Burks. Burks continues to impress with his energy and ability to get to the free throw line
• A lineup of Watson, Burks, Howard, Favors, and Kanter closed out the third quarter on a 10-0 run, nice mix of vets and young guns doin' work
• Raja Bell again played under 20 minutes, but his intensity was... intense. He'd dish three dimes and add a critical steal and momentum-swinging 3-pointer
Thanks to Steve Brown for a glowing in-game review of our experience as ambassadors and fans "who get it." And a hearty hat tip to Greg Miller and the Utah Jazz, who also "get it" when it comes to the fans.
And thanks to all of our Twitter followers who kept us smiling all game long with congrats, screencaps that immortalized our moment for the masses, and seriously funny commentary. I'm very sorry to disappoint you that I don't have a large, very round and very green head.
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