"This Is A Basketball Community" | NBA All-Star Weekend To Showcase How Special The State Of Utah Truly Is

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

As a lifelong Jazz fan, Ryan Smith vividly remembers when Utah hosted the NBA All-Star game 30 years ago. 

Although he didn't attend the marquee events, Smith recalls the vibe that took over downtown Salt Lake City. With people visiting from all over the world hoping to get a glimpse of the best basketball players, the energy was so palpable that it forever left an impression on him. 

Now 30 years later, the NBA All-Star game is again coming back to Salt Lake City — and this time, Smith will have a much more active role. As owners of the Jazz, Smith and his wife, Ashley, have been working nonstop around the clock for the past year to ensure that everyone can enjoy All-Star weekend. 

The first thing on the list is making sure the weekend is jam-packed with events in which the average fan can participate.

"If you think about how many are really for sale, and not given to the league, teams, corporate sponsors, there's not as many tickets as you would think," Smith said. "There's Jam Session. ... We have free events. The HBCU Classic has tickets starting at $10, the Rising Stars game, you could find tickets for $45. If people want to go, there's something for everyone. … And that's been really, really important to us, having been in that spot."

Headlining the events for fans is the incredible NBA Crossover and Jam Session, which was first introduced 30 years ago and the only event Smith attended back then. This year will revamp that original event and include a designated "Jam Session" area with family-focused activities, including NBA-themed games and participatory programming.

"I've been to All-Star (events) where you go and it's like, 'I just want a ball and want to shoot,' and there was no ball and no court," Smith said. "We have 14 different courts and, on top of that, a bunch of carnival games. Every kid is going to come and be able to shoot."

More than anything, Ryan and Ashley want to showcase more than just the Jazz and the organization — they want everyone to understand how much Utah has changed over the past 30 years. 

"We are a basketball state, this is a basketball community. … This is a really important moment for our state to shine," Ryan said.

From its booming tech sector to the beautiful snow-capped mountains a mere 15-minute drive from the airport and an ever-growing downtown, Salt Lake City and the state of Utah has become an incredible place to live and grow. 

With All-Star weekend on such a global stage, the Smiths believe this is the ideal opportunity to reshape people's minds about the greatness of Utah and why it's become one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. 

"We're massively passionate about Utah. … We kind of have it all here," Ashley said. "That's what I always say, Utah has it all. We've got this awesome tech sector, the culture of generosity, and the physical beauty. … We have so much that is really cool. To have a platform to showcase to everyone else what we see, I just can't wait for next week."

Despite the insanely busy schedule of events, Ryan and Ashley plan on taking it all in — not just as owners but as fans. They want to be a part of as many events as possible — with Ryan even coaching against co-owner Dwyane Wade in the Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

"We can sleep the week after," Ryan said with a smile and laugh. "You get to do this once every 30 years. … We're gonna rally. I've told everyone that we're up at six and we're gonna go. One of us is going to be somewhere. … We're going to be going, and we might be dragging five kids along, but that's okay."