Kragthorpe: Miller's legacy is bigger than Jazz

Memorial service sheds light on man's many dimensions.
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Three days before he died, while family members watched a video of his best sound bites over the years, Larry H. Miller was conscious enough to interject his own commentary at various points, explaining "what he really thought during those interviews," according to his oldest son.

Greg Miller laughed when he told that story during his father's funeral at EnergySolutions Arena, knowing he was among those who were blessed to know him best.

Everybody knew Larry Miller, some more so than the rest of us. If there was a lasting impression Saturday afternoon, from his 21 grandchildren's brief expressions to his sons' and daughter's reflections and LDS Church leaders' observations, it was this: I wish had known this guy better.

To me, he was pretty much "Jazz owner Larry Miller," his official introduction in hundreds of my newspaper stories during his 25 seasons of involvement with the franchise. Obviously, there was much more to him.

Afterward, I found myself feeling envious of his family, friends and Jazz players such as Karl Malone who really knew Miller, beyond what the rest of us glimpsed in interviews. In those settings, he was a fascinating subject, able to tell stories and recite facts in incredible detail, and I'll never forget some of those conversations -- including the time I persuaded him to issue midseason grades of his players.

But his life, and his legacy, are about much more than basketball. The blue coffin with white racing stripes was a strong clue, and so were the floral arrangements from various Utah colleges that Miller supported, only partly in an athletic sense.

The most striking thing about Saturday's program was how rarely the Jazz were mentioned. His son Roger spoke of enjoying attending basketball games, apostle M. Russell Ballard remembered discussions regarding Miller's agonizing about player contracts and others cited everything that went into constructing the arena. Yet there were far more stories about rides with his children in his beloved Cobra cars and fishing trips in Idaho than about anything that ever happened in that building.

There can be no minimizing of Miller's impact on professional sports here. He saved the franchise and built the arena, and no team has ever meant more to a town than the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Even this facility is temporary, though. Miller's effect on his family and other people is the part of him that really will live on.

"Only he knows how many he has helped," said Ballard, describing Miller as "an intense competitor," while also remembering how "gentle and loving he could be to those who needed his care and his love."

Miller was an intriguing, multidimensional person. He could drive around the block in an effort to find a parking meter with time remaining, as Greg Miler related, and he could be very generous. He could criticize or comfort his Jazz players with equal intensity.

They knew he cared about them, and so did just about everybody who knew him, to one degree or another. His sons recited memorable quotes and lessons they learned from him. Among them:

"Have a little fun along the way."

"Some things matter and some things don't."

"Knowing a lot of about things you're interested in is cool."

"Consistent execution of the basics leads to success."

"It's OK for grown men to cry."

There were some tears Saturday in tribute to a man who, as his daughter Karen said, "loved to go fast."

He gave us a lot in his 64 years, but Larry Miller still went too soon.