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SALT LAKE CITY — If the title of this article doesn’t make sense to you, allow me to explain.
When Kevin Durant, arguably the NBA’s second greatest player, won the Most Valuable Player award in 2014, he tearfully thanked his mother for the many sacrifices she made to keep him out of trouble, and on the path to superstardom. He looked at her in the audience and decreed, “you the real MVP.” I dare you watch the video and not tear up, it won’t happen.
Since then, this bizarre cacophony of humor and inhumanity that we call the internet has twisted it into a usually funny, borderline offensive meme praising non-heroes for their miniscule-in-comparison acts of kindness.
This headline is not supposed to be one of those funny, yet tactless memes.
On Monday, Gail Miller was all of our mothers, and we were Kevin Durant. Mrs. Miller’s sacrifices for the state, to keep the Jazz operating in Utah for the past 30 years have been noteworthy. What she did Monday to keep the team in Utah for the long haul is downright extraordinary.
By placing the team in a legacy trust, Miller essentially guaranteed the state of Utah that the Jazz name won’t be pre-empted by Las Vegas or Seattle any time in her lifetime, and maybe not for many lifetimes beyond that.
Questions have often circulated about the Jazz' long-term future in Utah, based on whether it made the best financial sense, or whether the family beyond Gail, and her late husband Larry H. Miller, loved the team like they have over the past 30 years. It would be hard to blame them if they didn’t. It was no secret around town that Larry was a workaholic, which led to a difficult relationship with his children. It’s hard to love something that takes your parents away from you.
It would be hard to argue with moving the team out of Salt Lake City. As one of the league’s smallest markets, the Millers could undoubtedly benefit financially from moving the team to Las Vegas or Seattle, or sell it to an investor knowing they would likely do the same.
It’s happening all over the sports world as we speak.
Last season, the St. Louis Rams moved back to Los Angeles, before being joined by the San Diego Chargers this offseason. Last week, the Oakland Raiders filed papers to move from the Bay Area to Las Vegas. The Sacramento Kings were embroiled in an argument over the locations of the team as recently as 2013, while the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s always seem to be rumored to be on the verge of relocating.
So why didn’t Gail Miller follow suit and opt to move the Jazz? Because that’s the easy, selfish thing to do, and that’s never been her modus operandi.
Does the trust benefit her and the Miller family? Of course.
Trusts act as a tax haven, saving the Millers potentially millions of dollars in taxes as the team gets passed down throughout the family. Miller, now in her 70s, may not want to deal with the daily rigors of operating an NBA team. The trust absolves the rest of the family from having to make difficult, potentially messy decisions on how to operate the team as owners without their parents' watchful eyes.
But don’t let those overshadow Miller’s action, she looked a billion-dollar franchise valuation in the face and told any potential buyers, thanks, but no thanks.
Being an NBA fan in Utah isn’t always easy. Fans of the team in the ’90s will remember Derek Harper and Rony Seikaly turning their back on opportunities to play for the Jazz. When big-name free agents hit the market, regardless of how much money the Jazz have, they aren’t ever really players for the top talent.
Which takes me back to Kevin Durant.
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the "you the real MVP" meme is that when Durant had an opportunity to mimic his mother’s actions and put in the hard work with the franchise that brought him into the NBA, he bolted from the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency for the Golden State Warriors. Did I mention the Warriors are moving to San Francisco in 2019?
Or maybe that wouldn’t have happened had the Thunder stayed in Seattle, before they were relocated to Oklahoma City.
Either way, while the Jazz may never land the top talent in the NBA because of the city they play in, they play in this city because of Gail Miller.
The real MVP.