The time Rodney Dangerfield bombed in Utah

The time Rodney Dangerfield bombed in Utah

The Utah Jazz have been sold, ending the 35-year stewardship of the franchise by the Miller family. It is the end of a long chapter in NBA ownership history, but it shall not end without a true story about a funny thing that happened one night in Salt Lake City.

During the 1995-96 Western Conference Finals between the Jazz and the Seattle SuperSonics, somebody in the Jazz organization came up with the idea of bringing in comedian Rodney Dangerfield to entertain the crowd during a TV timeout.

Dangerfield, known for his off-color “I get no respect” humor, was a nightly performer one state over in Nevada.

But let’s just say that the cultural differences between Utah and Nevada are significant. Anyway, during a timeout, Dangerfield got up from his courtside seat and started telling jokes about his wife. And in a crowd filled with families, many of them from the Church of Latter Day Saints, the act backfired.

It may have been the only time in Dangerfield’s career that be bombed quite so badly. Taking it all in from his usual courtside seat with a frown on his face was family patriarch Larry Miller, whose ownership of the Jazz was eventually passed to his son, Greg. (The elder Miller actually had his own cubicle in the Utah locker room, not far from those of John Stockton and Karl Malone).

“That went over like a lead balloon,” an NBA spokesman, long since departed, lamented in a Salt Lake City watering hole later that night. 

It is a true story that will not go untold after the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday approved the sale of the franchise to Ryan Smith, founder and executive chairman of Qualtrics, for a reported $1.66 billion.

“Ryan Smith is a forward-thinking, community-minded entrepreneur and business leader who will be a fantastic addition to our league,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.  “As a life-long fan of the Utah Jazz and more recently as one of their key marketing partners, Ryan has demonstrated his deep commitment to the Jazz and the Utah community and there’s no doubt he will bring that same level of dedication to the operation of the team.  We are also extraordinarily appreciative of Gail Miller, Greg Miller and the Miller family for 35 years of outstanding leadership and service and, on behalf of the entire NBA, thank them for always running a first-class organization in every way.”  

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