A few months before agreeing to buy Utah Jazz for $ 1.66 billion, Ryan Smith, who was officially approved as owner by the NBA board on Friday, said he is “very close” to make an offer to buy Minnesota Timberwolves.
Smith, who made his fortune as co-founder of Utah technology company Qualtrics, had some detailed discussions with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor last winter. Smith was seriously considering taking the next step until his wife, Ashley, objected.
“With my wife, something was wrong. She was putting her foot down,” Smith told ESPN. “He said, ‘You know we’re Jazz fans, don’t you?’ That’s what we do and I don’t move. ” He doesn’t set foot very often, but it reminded me nicely that I was a bit caught up in this other world, because I liked the business side of it. “
Smith then asked Gail Miller, whose family had owned Jazz for 35 years, about the potential to buy part of the team. He was initially rejected, but resumed talks in the summer and struck a deal for Smith to buy Jazz with Vivint Arena, a G-League affiliate and the Salt Lake City Bees Triple-A baseball team.
“Ryan Smith is a forward-thinking, community-oriented entrepreneur and business that will be a fantastic addition to our league,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “As a lifelong fan of Utah Jazz and more recently as one of their key marketing partners, Ryan has demonstrated a deep commitment to the Jazz and Utah community and there is no doubt that he will bring the same level of dedication to the operation. by the team. “
Part of the agreement stipulates that the team remain in Utah, which was never a question for Smith, a lifelong jazz fan whose seats in the backyard in recent seasons have been with Greg Miller, his son. Gail and the former CEO of the franchise, and his wife, Heidi.
“Adam Silver said some people have the rare and rare opportunity to get a piece or even an entire NBA team,” Smith said. “He said, ‘But no one, no one receives their team.’ For me to be in a place here, where we will start this new chapter with our team, is the reason why this is so unique, but it is also discouraging, right? “
Smith, 42, a self-described basketball fan who plays circles early in the morning at BYU Alma Mater a few days a week, has no plans to make major immediate changes. He chose the brain of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, an equally passionate basketball enthusiast who made a fortune in the world of technology before buying an NBA franchise at a relatively young age.
“I am upset after talking to him,” the Cuban wrote in a reply to ESPN. “He will be a great owner for Jazz fans, which I find unfortunate. :)”
Smith, whose previous relationship with Jazz included sponsoring the philanthropic patch “5 for the Fight,” which raised more than $ 25 million for cancer research, deeply admires the way the Miller family ran the franchise, noting that Utah ranks second in the NBA in wins over the past three decades.
“I feel the responsibility of that management,” said Smith, who continues to serve as Qualtrics’ CEO after the company sold for a $ 8 billion report. “So when you say, ‘Is it a hobby or a business?’ “I really don’t know how to respond to that, because I feel like it’s an administration for the Utah community.
“I will be straight up – that is, I do not intend to sell it, so of all the companies I have, it is not the largest. You have to do this because you are passionate and want to help the community and do good. We want to win and do well here in Utah. I think Millers have proven that, and if I can step in their place, it’s a perfect transfer. on Utah “.
Smith said he anticipates that he will have to be “on a learning curve” as he takes control of the team, especially on the basketball side, expressing great confidence in Jazz Basketball Executive Vice President Dennis Lindsey, general manager Justin Zanik and coach Quin Snyder.
Jazz made the playoffs four seasons in a row and has a core built around the All-Star tandem of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell – “a pretty cool place and a great team to take over,” Smith said.
Smith has a similar confidence in Jazz president Jim Olson and the team’s business operations and said he was “amazed” by some of the ideas he heard from that part of the franchise. A driving force in the development of the “Silicon Slopes” technology community in Utah, Smith is particularly fascinated by the implementation of technology to improve the fan experience and expects to be immediately involved in these issues.
“When it comes to that, I definitely have ideas,” Smith said. “I probably don’t have that many ideas yet, ‘Hey, this is the song Quin should be playing.’ It teaches me. He pulls me aside, like, “Hey, come sit in this meeting. I want you to understand the defense and this is how we will face each other ”. Is awesome. It’s another world. “
Smith, a father of five, said he plans to travel with Jazz whenever possible, but joked, “I won’t be in line with them.” He intends to figure out how he can help maximize the experience of playing for Jazz, as well as be a fan of the franchise.
“We certainly feel responsible for this,” Smith said. “You try to make everyone else have an amazing experience and allow that, as opposed to maybe doing it for you. I definitely change my 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 hosting the party.
“Many times, you don’t enjoy it as much as you do when you’re a fan, but one of my commitments is that it won’t change. I’ll have fun.”