This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Long before she was the owner of the Utah Jazz, and even before she was a fan, Gail Miller recalls her husband's concern that the fledgling franchise might move.

"The Jazz can't leave Utah," she remembered him saying. "We have to do everything we can to keep them here."

More than 30 years later, Gail Miller, owner and chairwoman of the Larry H. Miller Group of Cos., announced Monday she had transferred ownership of the team and its downtown arena to a legacy trust, a plan she said will keep the franchise in the family — and in Salt Lake City — for generations to come.

About 30 members of the Miller family sat behind the 73-year-old Miller as she, with tears in her eyes and clutching a game ball she has kept since she and her husband first bought the NBA franchise in 1985, announced a transfer Jazz officials believe is unprecedented in the history of the NBA — and appears to be a first in the four major North American professional sports (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL).

"We view the legacy trust literally and figuratively as passing the ball and all it stands for to future generations of our family members, fans and employees," Miller said.

She will serve as the trustee, and eventually will cede control of the franchise to a six-person board of managers, composed of members of her family.

"It is as close as possible to there being perpetual ownership of a professional sports team," son Greg Miller said.

The board of managers will need either a majority or a supermajority, depending on the nature of the business, to make future decisions for the franchise, attorney and former Utah Jazz President Dennis Haslam said.

Officials said the formation of the trust means all profits from the NBA franchise will be reinvested in the team so that the "trust will not provide any material benefit to the family from the Jazz."

"It stays within the company," Haslam said. "The profit that stays in the company will be used basically as retained earnings for expansion, for player salaries or other operations."

The trust will also have tax benefits for the Miller family. Gail Miller has been the head of the family's multifaceted business empire since her husband's death in 2009. Forbes has called Miller the richest person in Utah, with a net worth estimated around $1.7 billion.

"It's part of a big package of estate planning," Gail Miller said of the trust. "But it's one part that's all done and it will last forever, as long as we have people who are willing and able to take care of it."

The Millers began the process of creating the trust roughly a year and a half ago and had to navigate a series of hurdles before the NBA would sign off on the unprecedented move.

"We worked with the NBA for probably more than 12 months trying to put together a package that satisfied the NBA's needs for financial covenants, eventual opportunities for participation in management and the governance," Haslam said. "It took a long time, but we got there."

Larry and Gail Miller spent about $22 million to buy the Jazz and, on Monday, Gail Miller said she has had multiple opportunities to sell the franchise for a sizable profit.

But while many small-market owners have looked for greener — and bigger — pastures, the Millers said they wanted to keep the Jazz in Utah.

"The Jazz are not our family's team. They are a community asset. They are the Utah Jazz," son Steve Miller said, adding that the creation of the trust "would finally put to rest the questions and speculation about the team being sold".

Gail Miller cited the efforts of her late husband to keep the Jazz in Utah in the 1980s, and she and her children reasserted their own wish that the team remain for many generations to come.

"It gives me a peace of mind knowing that it's something that can perpetuate and be cared for, that the money will be there to make it happen," Gail Miller said. "Now we can concentrate on winning that championship and not have to answer, 'Are they going to stay or are they going to go?' Because they're staying."

Twitter: @aaronfalk

comments powered by Disqus