SALT LAKE CITY – Imagine a youthful billionaire tooling around the streets of Italy on a rented Vespa scooter with his wife and some of their closest friends.
This picture explains the life of Ryan Smith, mixing pleasure with his career as a software superstar. The new majority owner of the Utah Jazz was enjoying a 10-day vacation with former BYU basketball great Travis Hansen, current basketball coach Mark Pope and associate athletic director Brian Santiago and their spouses.
“It was a blast,” said Hansen during an interview on The Zone Sports Network. “Ryan rented Vespas and we acted like we were 18 years old again and in love.”
If all goes as Hansen expects the entire Jazz fan base in time will be in love with the organization’s new boss. The 42-year-old Smith is purchasing the team from Gail Miller and her family, which has owned the team for 35 years.
The homespun ownership of the late Larry H. Miller and his wife is transferring to Smith and his wife, Ashley. Transition from one Utah family to another means good news to the rabid Jazz fan base.
“They are going to blow it up to epic proportions,” said Pope, who is never short of exuberance, “and they are going to represent the state in such an extraordinary way, this incredibly visible mouthpiece that represents the state of Utah.”
Smith, the founder of Qualtrics, is a lifelong Utah resident with passion for basketball and a longtime interest in owning an NBA team. He’s frequently seen at Jazz home games, sitting on the front row between the scorer’s table and the team bench.
Noted for his deep love of Utah, Larry Miller might have met his match in Smith. As Hansen points out, the billionaire capable of living anywhere won’t leave home.
“The Millers got what they wanted,” Hansen said. “They don’t want the Jazz to leave Utah and they would never turn it over to anybody that would take it away from this state. They found it with Ryan and Ashley. They love Utah on the scale of the Millers or even more.”
The best player on multiple NCAA tournament teams for BYU before embarking on an NBA and European career, Hansen played with a zest and competitive spirit that rivals exactly the type of intensity Smith brings to his life. The two have actually played pick-up basketball for years, with Smith holding his own against high-caliber competition.
Hansen knows his friend with bring the same fire to his leadership position with the Jazz. He already labels Smith as one of the association’s premiere owners.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone that likes to win more than Ryan Smith,” Hansen said. “He’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s smart and he just has all the skills to be successful.
“I think that we’re all going to be very, very excited and thankful that he actually took this over and that Gail was ready to pass on the key to him and see what he could with it.”
It won’t come as a surprise to see Smith willing to spend money, starting with expected mover to re-sign free agent Jordan Clarkson and extending franchise pillars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. As Brian Windhorst said on his ESPN podcast, young billionaire NBA owners “usually don’t come in like lambs.”
Hansen describes Smith as an excellent recruiter potentially capable of luring talent to play for the smaller-market franchise. Smith, who often tweets quotes from LDS church leaders, has been vocal on social media in support of issues that are important to many NBA players.
Going forward, whatever is ahead for the Jazz, rest assured the franchise won’t lack for effort.
“I think they’ll win,” Hansen said. “I think they’ll find ways to bring in the right players and spend the money to win. That’s what our common goal is. We want to see the Jazz to win and we want them to bring an NBA championship.”