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It was a perfectly agreeable afternoon on that day nearly 23 years ago, and Dave Checketts - now the multimillionaire entrepreneur who owns the Real Salt Lake soccer team and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League - had just accepted the job that would launch his wondrous career.

He was back home in Utah to become president of the fledgling Jazz basketball team, and his brother was helping him move his family's furniture into their new home in Bountiful. With a pickup truck full of boxes and furniture, they headed up the street. Checketts drove slowly along the side of the road. His older brother Larry was in the back, insistently trying to steady the shifting contents.

Nothing could have been finer, a day - a family - rich with promise. Then, something happened.

Larry Checketts - the big, strong cop who worked undercover to catch drug dealers, the husband and father of four young children - somehow lost his grip and his balance. He fell out of the truck, landing on the pavement, and on his head. Dave Checketts continued to drive half a block before realizing his brother was gone.

Eventually, Dave turned around. Already, a crowd had started to gather around his brother, sprawled in the street. Larry had suffered massive head injuries, and was delirious as Dave leapt from the truck and rushed to his side.

Dave took Larry in his arms as he cried out in pain.

"Dave!" the man kept screaming, "Dave!"

Checketts told his brother he was right there.

Told him to hang in there. Told him everything would be all right.

Six days later, Larry was dead.

Today, the 50-year-old Checketts is ascending to a new level within the pantheon of professional sports owners, having led a group of investors in purchasing the Blues and their downtown arena for $150 million last month after trying for years to buy other popular franchises.

His soccer team, RSL, opened its second season at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. He is working to build a massive sports complex to house the franchise in Sandy. He has long since established himself as one of the premier sports executives in the country, earning many admirers and many enemies, too, who say he is ruthless in his quest to get what he wants.

But back in 1983? Checketts was simply an ambitious young businessman from Bountiful not long removed from a two-year mission for the LDS Church, trying to build a career and support a family that would eventually grow to include six children and 84 nieces and nephews.

Inspired by his faith and his family, Checketts already was confident he would forge a successful career in business. That tragic accident in Bountiful, though, would painfully sharpen his focus on how he wanted to live his life.

He grew up like everybody else he knew, playing sports past dark and seldom imagining he was destined for anything much more spectacular than the rest of his pals.

But everything changed for Dave Checketts - the first time - the day he walked into the office of a middle-aged basketball executive named David Stern in 1983.

Barely out of the master's program at Brigham Young University, Checketts was a sharp up-and-comer working for a consulting firm in Boston. In those days, the NBA had not yet exploded into the popular global enterprise that it is today. Stern was not yet its imperious commissioner, but rather an executive vice president working in a simple office in New York City.

So it was no grand accomplishment for the young Checketts to simply show up one day without an appointment - he intended to see commissioner Larry O'Brien, but O'Brien was out - and walk into a meeting with Stern that turned out to be the most important of his life.

The men began arguing almost immediately, Checketts recalls, about the salary cap and value of the teams in the league. "We were literally yelling at each other across the room," he says.

Stern loved it.

A litigator by training, he enjoyed being "engaged in animated discussion," as he puts it, and having someone take such an interest in a league that to that point was only modestly successful.

"It was his analytical skills and his determination to put what so many people thought was the soft aspect that is sports through a rigorous analysis to figure out whether it made sense or not," Stern recalls. "That, to me, was so important."

So once Checketts let it slip that he'd been a walk-on basketball player at BYU, Stern wasted little time in calling Sam Battistone, then the owner of the Jazz, and recommending that he hire Checketts to run his struggling franchise.

Soon, Checketts was headed home as the president of the Jazz, buoyed by a blossoming friendship with a man who would become one of the most powerful figures in professional sports.

"He's been an incredible mentor," Checketts says.

And just like that, the door to the world of high-stakes sports, business and entertainment swung open before him. Checketts had barely started to walk through, however, before his brother's death taught him the most valuable lesson he ever learned.

Three months after his brother died in the hospital, Checketts was still "inconsolable," as he puts it.

He couldn't help but feel somehow responsible, and he'd grown depressed thinking about his brother's widow and fatherless children. His work rebuilding the Jazz, too, was proving even more difficult than he'd imagined. The team was a disaster, and Checketts felt the same way.

His father, however, had seen enough. Three months of moping was too much for the lifelong salesman to take, even in the name of mourning his oldest son, and he was determined to shake his younger one back to life. So when Checketts opened up to him about the accident, he offered exactly none of the sympathy the young man was seeking.

"You have to pick yourself up and get going," Checketts recalls his father saying, "because Larry would be ashamed if he saw you moping around, feeling sorry for yourself - not for him, not for his kids, even though that's what you claim. Just feeling sorry for yourself."

Years later, even though he rarely speaks about them to outsiders, the words have not lost their impact.

Live your life as a tribute.

"I've tried to do that," Checketts says.

It's not so much career achievements as a certain sense of character that he regards as his tribute, but Dave Checketts has piled them up, anyway.

Along the way, he's also amassed a personal fortune on the strength of smart investments in start-up companies, real estate and the stock market, earned a reputation as a relentless competitor and tireless worker, and has been considered a potential candidate for seemingly every high-profile position in sports, from the head of the committee organizing the Salt Lake Olympics to the commissioner of the NBA and Major League Baseball.

"There's no way I could have predicted things would turn out like this," he says. And probably no way they would have, without that unscheduled meeting with Stern, whose friendship ultimately gave him entry into an exclusive realm of the rich and powerful.

Critically, that helped him fashion his stunning résumé, as well as comprise a vast network of high-powered connections that now fuels his expanding empire and growing tribute.

Politicians. Athletes.

Entertainers, and captains of industry.

Checketts knows them all.

Far from simply riding coattails, though, Checketts has capitalized on his every fortuitous opportunity over the years by tapping a rare blend of intelligence, charisma and business savvy that has allowed him to navigate some of the world's most shark-infested corporate waters practically without a scratch.

"One of the things about Dave is he's very smart," says Scott Layden, the Jazz assistant coach and close friend whom Checketts once hired as president and general manager of the Knicks. "He's sharp and he has a very quick mind. That helps you right away, and he also has a great background in the people he was around in pro sports." Not that Checketts hasn't had his critics.

Columnist Peter Vecsey of the New York Post described him as the "architect of armageddon" for his role (along with Layden) in signing Knicks players to untenable contracts and burdening the team for years to come, while Harvey Araton of The New York Times suggested "there was a little blood red, mixed with dollar green" in Checketts' blue eyes after he memorably fired Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld over dessert at a restaurant in 1999. (Grunfeld later called it his "Last Supper," and Checketts now admits it was a mistake.)

Others have noted that for all of Checketts' supposed managerial acumen, the only team to win a title during his tenure anywhere was the New York Rangers, who won the Stanley Cup just as Checketts was beginning to oversee the team in 1994 in his role at MSG.

Checketts also is well-remembered for having to acknowledge publicly lying about covertly courting Phil Jackson as a potential replacement for still-on-the-job Jeff Van Gundy as coach of the Knicks in 1999; admits he's hated by Pat Riley; and says he's still not on good terms with Jazz owner Larry Miller, from whom he had a painful parting a decade earlier. "I don't have a problem," Checketts says. "He seems to have a problem."

Checketts says he left the Jazz because Miller was not abiding by a promise to sell him part of the team; Miller did not respond to interview requests. Nor did James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks to whom Checketts ultimately lost a power struggle that forced him from his MSG job in 2001.

Yet those who know Checketts best insist any perceived corporate savagery was a learned behavior, necessary to survive in his ruthless world.

At heart, they say, Checketts is a warm, funny, caring man. He might be the man who once fired a close personal friend over dessert, but he's also the one who directs the boys choir in his LDS Church ward and buys the whole group new matching neckties for each performance. Employees generally rave about working for him.

"He's got great vision and knows how to go about doing things in the right way," says Gifford Nielsen, the former BYU quarterback who played basketball with Checketts in college and now is a sports television anchor in Houston. "Some people just have it and are not afraid of failing. And Dave Checketts is not afraid of failing." Certainly not. Not now. Not after that horrible day on the side of the road.

"I've heard him talk about it before," says Adam Checketts, one of Larry's sons who was 6 when his father died and is now a sales rep for a radio station in Salt Lake City. "He talks about it as a real pivotal moment in his life, where he felt the need to be the best he could possibly be after that. He was already on the track to success, but I've heard him say that he wouldn't be where he is today without that happening.

"I know Dave felt maybe somewhat guilty, like somehow it was his fault," Adam Checketts says. "It wasn't. But he was always very close and very involved with our family, and I've actually always considered him a father figure."

Easily, he could have retired by now. Taken the family to his handsome spread at Wolf Creek Ranch in Summit County and settled down to enjoy the fruits of a life well-lived, to ski and snowmobile and play with the grandkids in the yard.

But just as Checketts refused to give up on basketball after failing to make the team at Bountiful High School - he later made the team at BYU as a walk-on - he has refused to stop pushing in his professional life. For one thing, he loves being in charge as an owner. For another, he says, "I love to create experiences that move people." And for another? There's Larry.

The big, strong, undercover cop who tried to make the world a better place.

Though Checketts is wary of being perceived as thinking he's the only one who ever lost a loved one, and wouldn't presume to be making the world a better place "by trying to figure out how to pay Patrick Ewing $18 million a year," he does believe that "in a small way, sports teams, having that experience in a community is really, really, very valuable."

So that's his tribute.

Every job, every move, every decision is also a way to abide his father's advice, by finding a way to turn his brother's memory into an experience that transcends money and fame and prestige.

Checketts remembers leaving the old Salt Palace following a riveting Jazz playoff victory over the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers that forced a decisive and unexpected Game 7 in the 1988 NBA playoffs. The city was going wild over the possibility - ultimately denied - of eliminating the "Showtime" Lakers and reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time. Checketts knew that he had played an enormous role in making it happen.

"My favorite part of that was walking out on the street and seeing people in Jazz shirts and hats and waving flags," he says. "It meant something in that town. And more than money, more than anything else, that's what motivates me. I love that." No doubt, Larry would have loved it, too.

Checketts: A career snapshot

* Goodbye Jazz; hello Knicks: After a year working for NBA International, Checketts takes over as president of the New York Knicks, and, later, Madison Square Garden and its sprawling sports and entertainment network. From 1991 to 2001, he revitalizes both institutions and learns to survive a ruthless corporate jungle. In the end, though, he loses a power struggle with Chairman James Dolan and resigns.

* Switching sports: By founding Sports Capital Partners investment group in 2001, Checketts begins his long-awaited foray into sports ownership. He buys into College Sports TV shortly before its $325 million acquisition by CBS, pays $10 million for expansion soccer team Real Salt Lake in 2004, and joins other investors in paying $150 million for the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League. He remains interested in owning an NBA team, especially the Knicks.

* Other interests: He sits on the executive boards of several corporations, such as JetBlue Airways, Republic Mortgage and Citadel Communications, and is the acting president of IMG, the global sports management and marketing company.


Dave and his wife, Deb, have been married 29 years and have six children. He holds an appointment as a first counselor in his stake presidency in the LDS Church. He owns a family retreat at Wolf Creek Ranch north of Heber City in Summit County, in addition to his home in Connecticut.

-- The Salt Lake Tribune