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About Utah: An insider’s look at the Jazz’s golden age


SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it was because he’d been a basketball junkie from the time he could walk and he didn’t figure anything associated with a game he played could be considered work.

Maybe it was because it was 1986 and the Utah Jazz, seven years into their Utah tenure, were holding on by their financial fingernails.

Maybe the fact that the Jazz’s sales department consisted of exactly one full-time employee had something to do with it.

Whatever it was, when Utah’s entry in the National Basketball Association offered Mike Snarr a job selling sponsorships, he was skeptical.

He called his wife, Tamie.

“The Jazz have offered me a job,” he told her. “But I don’t think it’s a job. How can it be a job?”

Tamie, the level-headed one in the family, reminded her husband that the company he worked for as vice president of marketing, Triad America, was imploding, about to take out bankruptcy.

“Mike,” she said, “you don’t have a job, I’m pregnant, we’re about to lose our insurance, the house needs a new roof. Why don’t you get serious about finding work?”

Well, since she put it like that.

Later that day, on his way to — what else? — play some afternoon pickup basketball at the old Deseret Gym, Mike ran into Larry Baum, the Jazz’s one-man sales staff.

It had to be karma.

He told him he’d decided to take them up on their offer.

Twenty-eight-and-a-half years later he finally left the Jazz — when he retired at the end of the 2015 season.

Between 1986 and 2015, he was part of a sports franchise that went to the playoffs 22 times in those 28 seasons, that played for the NBA title twice, that was worth $17 million when he started, which is what Larry H. Miller paid for the Jazz four months before Snarr hired on, and is worth $850 million today.

Snarr calls it “The Golden Age of Jazz basketball,” and still can’t quite believe his good fortune at seeing it all up close and personal.

He watched John and Karl and Hornacek and Big Mark and Big T and Andrei and Layden and Sloan and Hot Rod and Larry Miller come and (sadly) go. He watched the Salt Palace morph into the DeltaCenter/EnergySolutions/VivintSmartHomeArena. He watched Jordan and Dick Bavetta do in the Jazz in 1998.

When he first started, he averaged $50,000 to $100,000 worth of sponsorship sales a year. When he left he averaged over $7 million. He secured the Jazz’s first relationship with McDonald’s and Cellular One/AT&T. He negotiated the deal that put Zions Bank’s name on the Jazz’s new practice facility. He helped structure the seven-figure deal that turned the Delta Center into EnergySolutions Arena.

He was part of a sales team that grew from a staff of one to a staff of many that he eventually led as vice president of sponsorship sales. In 2006, at the annual business retreat of Larry H. Miller Enterprises, he was honored with the LHM Award for Management Excellence for the sports division.

About two months after he retired, he started writing down memories from the 28 years he spent with the Jazz. He did this for two reasons: He didn’t want to forget what happened, and he wanted his family to know what happened.

One story led to another to another. Snarr wrote about the team, about sales, about people, about his love affair with playing basketball (He played through three knee operations and two hip replacements until he was in his 50s) and watching basketball (He attended about 1,500 Jazz games — work, you know).

Year by year, he juxtaposed what was happening with the Jazz on the court with what was happening on the business side of things.

When he was finished, he emailed copies to family, friends and former colleagues. The feedback he got was positive. Grant Harrison, who worked alongside Snarr for years, said he didn’t read books, but he read this one.

Enough people encouraged him to publish his memoirs that he decided why not.

“Long Shots and Layups: Memories and Stories from the Golden Era of the Utah Jazz” is a 344-page walk down memory lane. It came off the presses in May. The foreword is by Jerry Sloan. It’s available at the website longshotsandlayups.com.

“It’s a sports book with a business slant, or maybe a business book with a sports slant,” says Snarr, who by the way still contends that what he told his wife was right.

It wasn’t a job.

“It was but it wasn’t,” he says. “If you know what I mean.”


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