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Frank Hughes
Sunday, December 12
Jazz era could end with players and owner

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's no secret that once John Stockton and Karl Malone call it quits, the storied era of the Utah Jazz is going to end.
Karl Malone
What will happen to the Jazz when Karl Malone leaves?

Apparently, every facet of this Jazz team will end.

According to several league sources, Utah owner Larry Miller is going to sell the franchise, perhaps as soon as in two years, when Stockton's contract has expired and the Jazz no longer will be a factor in the race for the Western Conference title.

Miller did not return several phone calls to his offices, but the prevailing theory, according to the sources, is that Miller is going to sell the team to Jon Huntsman, the wealthiest man in Utah and the namesake of the Huntsman Corp., a $5 billion-a-year chemical manufacturer based in Salt Lake City.

However, one of the sources said that while Huntsman is the first in line to purchase the team, "It wouldn't surprise me if he sold it to somebody else."

The sources say that Miller has tied his tenure of the Jazz, which he has owned for 15 years, with the careers of Stockton and Malone, and to a lesser degree Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek is retiring after this season. Stockton, in his 15th season, is signed through the 2001-2002 season. And Malone, in his 14th season, is signed through the 2002-2003 season.

If Miller sells the team after Stockton's retirement in 2002, it would mean Malone would finish out the remainder of his four-year, $67 million contract by himself.

Malone could not be reached for comment, and his agent, Dwight Manley, did not return several phone calls to his office.

Miller also owns the Delta Center, where the Jazz play, as well as the television station KJZZ, which televises Jazz games. In a recent Forbes article, the Jazz were estimated at a worth of $215 million, eighth in the league. However, Forbes estimated that while the Jazz generated revenue of $47.7 million last season, the team lost $700,000.

Huntsman, according to Fortune 500 Magazine, is one of the nation's Top 25 philanthropists, and is one of the University of Utah's biggest boosters. The arena where the Utah men's basketball team plays is named the Huntsman Center.

The thought, according to sources, is that if Huntsman actually buys the team, he will ask Utah coach Rick Majerus to coach the Jazz. Current Utah coach Jerry Sloan's contract expires after the 2000-2001 season. One source said Majerus has declined several offers from NBA teams because he knows he has a job waiting for him in Utah once Miller sells the team to Huntsman.

But a source close to Majerus said that while he has considered the option of coaching for the Jazz once Huntsman takes over, he may decline in the future because of health concerns.

Majerus, who lives in a hotel next to the university campus, is obese, and friends say he has no interest in losing the additional weight he is carrying.

But Miller has to be careful about whom he sells the team to, because his primary revenue source is his 38 car dealerships, and if he makes Utahns angry by selling the team to an owner who is controversial, or is not willing to spend money to win, the backlash against Miller's other businesses could be devastating.

Worse, if Miller sells the team to an owner whose intentions are to move the franchise to a larger market, Miller may never be forgiven. He already sold an IHL hockey team that later became the Detroit Vipers, and there was an anti-Miller contingent of fans then who were calling for the public to boycott Miller's car dealerships.

Then-owner Sam Battistone was considering moving the team when Miller bought it from him outright in 1985.

But owning an NBA team in the league's smallest market could be a financial strain for whomever takes over the franchise. Television revenue in Salt Lake City, which under normal circumstances account for about 40 percent of a team's overall revenue, is far less than average because of the city's population.

Already, the Jazz are not selling out the Delta Center as the team has struggled to an 11-7 record, far less than Jazz fans have become accustomed to in recent seasons.

And the attendance likely will only slip further when Malone and Stockton retire because the Jazz do not have the basis for a strong future, and it is difficult to convince top-notch free agents to move to Salt Lake City, a city infamous for its adoption of strict Mormon principles.

In recent seasons, Derek Harper and Rony Seikaly have refused to report to the Jazz after they were traded from their respective teams.

Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to

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