By: Jennifer Robinson
The Utah Jazz are done playing for the 2017-2018 season, but their impact on the community will last all year. Thanks to the leadership and values held both on and off the court, Utah’s NBA basketball franchise has garnered a massive following across the state and region, producing a large positive impact for our state. Utah Jazz President Steve Starks joined Natalie Gochnour for May’s Newsmaker Breakfast (watch recording here) to discuss this impact.
Starks noted that the excellent team leadership starts with the Miller family, as they bring high values to the front office and exude upstanding leadership qualities. Last year, the Miller family made news when they transferred ownership of the Jazz to a trust. This move means the family will no longer directly profit from the team, but guarantees that Utah will be the permanent home for the Jazz. Starks also spoke at length about the strength of Gail Miller’s legacy of philanthropic work and efforts to provide the leadership and principles on which the organization is founded. She helps the organization have the stability and confidence to run the team the right way: to focus on developing players rather than luring in big names for quick wins, and keeping the team focused on improving the community.
The Jazz are much more than Salt Lake City’s team — they represent the whole state and even the region. Starks pointed out that in the NBA, only three team names include a state rather than a city: Utah Jazz, New York Knicks, and New Jersey Nets. When the NBA organization directed teams to create a “city edition” uniform that would honor their fans, the Jazz, once again, looked beyond the court to the larger influence they could have on the league and their fans. When designing their “city edition” uniforms, the Jazz adopted a Southern Utah-inspired bright yellow, orange, and red color scheme. These jerseys have turned heads all across the league, as many people only think of winter and snow when they think of Utah (Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio, whom Starks spoke of in glowing terms, even invited friends from his home country of Spain to tour Utah’s red rock country to understand the origin of the jersey design). In this way, the Jazz are expanding people’s understanding of all that Utah has to offer, one uniform at a time.
The focus on bettering the community is evident even on the logos and patches the team chooses to wear on their uniforms. Starks shared an example to illustrate the power of the value-based leadership on the team: the NBA allowed teams to sell an advertising patch on their “city edition” jerseys. Instead of the normal corporate sponsorship branding patch that other NBA teams used, the Jazz selected 5 for the Fight, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting cancer, to wear on their jerseys. The 5 for the Fight patch unifies fans and players by giving them a cause to rally behind and shifting the focus of the season beyond wins and losses to a greater cause.
The Jazz franchise has definitely earned the right to be proud of their hard work both on and off the court. Their positive influence on the community is clearly a reflection of the values held by the leadership within the organization. From the ownership to the front office, and the legacies of John Stockton and Karl Malone to the young promising players currently wearing the Jazz Note, the Jazz franchise is in good hands. Utah loves the Jazz, and it’s clear the feeling is mutual.
Jennifer Robinson is the associate director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.