Months before he agreed to buy this Utah Jazz For $ 1.66 billion, Ryan Smith, officially recognized as the owner by the NBA Board of Governors on Friday, said he was “really close” to making an offer to buy the company Minnesota Timberwolves.
Smith, who made his fortune cofounding Utah-based tech company Qualtrics, had several extensive conversations with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor last winter. Smith seriously considered taking the next step until his wife Ashley raised her objection.
“Something was wrong with my wife. She put her foot down,” Smith told ESPN. “She said, ‘You know we’re jazz fans, right? We do that and I don’t move.’ She doesn’t put her foot down very often, but it was a nice reminder that I was kind of trapped in this other world because I liked the business side. “
Smith then reached out to Gail Miller, whose family had owned jazz for 35 years, to possibly buy part of the team. He was initially turned down, but they resumed discussions that summer and worked out a deal for Smith to buy the Jazz along with Vivint Arena, the team’s G League partner, and the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees.
“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 in a statement. “As a lifelong fan of Utah jazz and, more recently, one of its major marketing partners, Ryan has demonstrated his deep commitment to jazz and the Utah community, and there is no doubt that he has the same level of dedication to running it will bring the team. “
Part of the deal provides for the team to stay in Utah, which has never been an issue for Smith, a lifelong jazz fan who has seated alongside Greg Miller, Gail’s son and former CEO of the franchise, and his wife for the past few seasons. Heidi.
“Adam Silver said some people get the rare, rare opportunity to get a piece or even an entire NBA team,” said Smith. “He said, ‘But nobody, nobody gets her Team.’ If I’m here in a place where we can start this new chapter with our team, that’s why this is so unique, but also daunting, isn’t it? “
Smith, 42, a self-described basketball fanatic who plays early morning pickup hoops at alma mater BYU several days a week, has no plans to make major changes immediately. He picked the brain from Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, a similarly passionate basketball fan who made a fortune in the tech world before buying an NBA franchise at a relatively young age.
“I’m upset after talking to him,” the Cuban wrote in a response to ESPN. “He will be a great owner for jazz fans, which I find unfortunate. :)”
Smith, whose previous relationship with jazz included sponsoring the 5 for the Fight philanthropic jersey patch that raised more than $ 25 million for cancer research, deeply admires how the Miller family ran the franchise, and notes that Utah ranks second in the NBA wins over the past three decades.
“I feel responsible for that responsibility,” said Smith, who remains CEO of Qualtrics after the company was sold for $ 8 billion. “So when you say, ‘Is this a hobby or a business?’ I really don’t know how to respond to this because I feel like it’s a responsibility to the Utah community.
“I’m about to do it – I mean, I have no intention of selling it, so of all the business ventures I have, this is not the best. You have to do this because you are passionate about it and you want the community help and do good. We want to win and do good here in Utah. I think the Millers showed that, and if I can just follow in their footsteps it will be a perfect handover. I’m bullish on Utah. “
Smith said he expected “to be on a learning curve” as he takes responsibility for the team, particularly on the basketball side, and expressed great confidence in the executive vice president of jazz basketball operations, Dennis Lindsey , General Manager Justin Zanik and Trainer Quin Snyder.
Smith has similar confidence in Jazz President Jim Olson and the team’s business. He said he was “blown away” by some of the ideas he heard from this side of the franchise. Smith is a driving force behind the development of Silicon Slopes, a booming tech community in Utah. He is particularly intrigued by the implementation of technology to improve the fan experience and expects to be involved in those aspects immediately.
“When it comes to that, I definitely have ideas,” said Smith. “I probably don’t have that many ideas on ‘Hey, this is the piece Quin should be playing.’ He teaches me. He pulls me aside and says, “Hey, sit down for this meeting. I want you to understand the defense, so we’re going to compete against each other. “He’s great. It’s a whole different world.”
Smith, a father of five, said he plans to travel with the jazz if possible but joked, “I won’t be standing in line with them.” He plans to figure out how he can help maximize the experience of playing for and being a fan of jazz.
“We definitely feel responsible for it,” said Smith. “You’re trying to make everyone else have an amazing experience and let it happen, instead of maybe doing it yourself. I’m definitely switching shoes with Greg and the Miller family because I was the one next to him, just having fun with the experience, and they were the ones who hosted the party.
“Often you don’t enjoy it as much as you do as a fan, but one of my obligations is that it won’t change. I’ll have fun.”