Ryan Smith grew up rooting for the Utah Jazz.
He played Junior Jazz basketball as a child.
He dreamed of one day suiting up for his hometown team as a pro.
“That part didn’t work out,” Smith said with a grin.
But on Wednesday morning, Smith, the Utah entrepreneur and billionaire founder of Qualtrics, realized a different dream, as he acquired majority ownership of his state’s NBA franchise.
“There’s not another team or another opportunity that we would do this with,” Smith said at a press conference at Vivint Arena.
The announcement marks a new chapter in the franchise’s history—a history that had been written by the Miller family for more than three decades.
Gail Miller had experienced nearly every emotion an NBA owner can feel over the course of the last 35 years, a journey in which her family has overseen the transformation of the Utah Jazz from a basketball franchise on the brink of failure to a perennial winner.
Even still, she was overcome with new emotions Wednesday.
“Today is a day I’ve never been able to imagine,” Miller said during the announcement, which was attended by a small number of stakeholders wearing masks and practicing physical distance.
Miller reflected on that journey, which started when Larry H. Miller bought 50 percent of the team in 1981.
“We took a giant step out of our comfort zone,” Gail Miller said. “That was the beginning of adventure of unimaginable proportions for us as a family.”
Larry Miller was 40 when the family bought the Jazz.
“We were young and full of excitement at the prospect of being stewards of a unique asset and sharing it with Utah and beyond,” Gail Miller recalled.
On Wednesday, Miller handed a symbolic key to the franchise to the 40-year-old Smith and his wife, Ashley Smith, who will lead the franchise’s new journey.
Smith has been a strong partner of the Utah Jazz for many years and was co-creator of the “5 For The Fight” jersey patch, the first philanthropic jersey patch in the history of North American professional sports. 5 For The Fight has raised over $25 million since the patch partnership was announced just three years ago.
“I believe that Ryan and Ashley embody the things that we hold dear as a family,” said Miller, who will retain a minority ownership in the team. “I have every confidence that they will move the team to the next level, while honoring our history, our common goals and our work.”
The Miller family placed the Jazz in a legacy trust in January 2017. Miller said she believed “the objectives of the trust will be honored” and that the new owners “have made the same commitment to keep the team in Utah.”
“Our commitment is that we’re going to build on your legacy,” Smith told Miller. “We couldn’t be more grateful for you.”
The deal, which is pending the approval of the NBA Board of Governors, will see the Smiths take majority ownership of the Jazz, Vivint Arena, the G League Salt Lake City Stars, and a management agreement regarding the Triple-A baseball affiliate Salt Lake Bees are also included in the deal. Smith intends to enter into a separate agreement to obtain ownership of The Zone radio station.
Smith said he had approached the Miller family multiple times over the years about the possibility of purchasing the Utah Jazz. Smith was also approached by owners of sports teams in other markets, but said his wife was always adamant about finding a way to make their dream work in Utah.
“We are blown away and honored that we get this experience with Utah and with Jazz nation,” Ashley Smith said. “For our little family, the Jazz has been about love. It’s about spending time together. It’s about sharing experiences, sharing victories or losses or lessons learned and hard work. All the ups and downs that come with any great adventure. I think this is going to be an incredible adventure and an adventure we get to share with you.
“We’re committed to their vision. We’re committed to Utah. We’re committed to the Jazz. So let’s go!”