'No one wins when respect goes away,' Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller tells fans in pregame address

by Aaron Falk

Before another basket was made, before another fan had a chance to jeer, Gail Miller stood at center court and made her voice heard.

The Utah Jazz owner delivered a heartfelt message of unity and a condemnation of racism and inappropriate fan behavior on Thursday night. The message came just prior to tipoff of the Jazz’s first home game since a fan made degrading remarks aimed at Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook earlier this week.

“I am extremely disappointed that one of our ‘fans’ conducted himself in such a way as to offend not only a guest in our arena, but also me personally, my family, our organization, the community, our players, and you as the best fans in the NBA,” Miller told the crowd of 18,000-plus. “This should never happen.”

The Jazz on Tuesday announced that man was banned for life from the arena. And on Thursday, Miller and the organization reiterated their zero-tolerance stance toward violations of decency and the NBA Fan Code of Conduct at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

“My heartfelt request to all of you is from this time forward, we all take pride in holding ourselves and those around us to the highest standards of decency,” she said.

Monday’s incident was painful for Miller and for the players who wear the Utah Jazz jersey.

“As a black man living in a community I love, and playing on a team that gives me the opportunity to live out my dream, this incident hits close to home,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said in a statement. “Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena. The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive and [this] incident is not indicative of our fan base.

“I join other players in calling for all teams to take a stand. We should not be subject to hate speech or racist acts at any time, and definitely not in our arenas.”

So Mitchell appreciated the team’s leaders making a public show of support this week.

“In this business, to have our owner be so forward and out there and back us the way she did, it’s amazing,” Mitchell said after Thursday’s game. “That’s the incredible thing about the NBA. Not all sports are like that. She’s been open and honest with us. In my two years of knowing her, I respect her. Everything you hear about the Miller family is positive and this is just another instance that gives us confidence.”

Miller and Jazz president Steve Starks reminded fans of the team's standards—and the consequences for violating them—in an e-mail message on Thursday afternoon.

“We do not permit hate speech, racism, sexism or homophobia,” the statement read. “We also do not allow disruptive behavior, including bullying, foul or abusive language, or obscene gestures.”

The statement continued: “We all have a responsibility to respect the game of basketball and, more importantly, each other as human beings. This has always been a hallmark of our incredible fan base and should forever be our standard moving forward.”

Before tipoff, Miller expounded on that message.

“We are not a racist community,” she said. “We believe in treating people with courtesy and respect as human beings.”

Miller also spoke to the players before she made her pregame address to the fans.

“We all know she has a great heart and she was really affected—not only as a businesswoman but as a human,” center Rudy Gobert said. “It hurts to see other people calling Jazz fans racist. I think she got affected a lot by it. So it was great to have her address the crowd like that.” .

“It means the world,” added forward Jae Crowder. “For her to be courageous and go up in front of our fans to make that statement, we applaud her. We’re behind her. We let her know that even before she made the speech. It means a lot to us players and hopefully it means a lot to our fans, to respect and listen to what she has to say.”

Gobert hoped fans everywhere would heed Miller’s words.

“The people that live here know that this is not a racist state, but there are racist people everywhere,” Gobert said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to change that completely. But to be able to handle it the way she did and the way the organization did, it shows a lot.”

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