The Jazz Have a New Owner and People Are Feeling Some Things

Add Dwyane Wade to the list of athletes buying a team. It’s old now, kind of boring. The in-thing, not a novelty. Baseball phenom Alex Rodriguez bought the Minnesota Timberwolves and is a 50% partner.  Three years ago, Derek Jeter bought the flailing Miami Marlins. After both acquisitions, Rodriguez and Jeter were applauded for having the capital and the resources for a winning bid. The Timberwolves were sold for $1.5 billion, the Marlins $1.2 billion.

But when Dwyane Wade bought into the Utah Jazz, the cynical assumptions that didn’t exist for Rodriquez or Jeter fell from the sky.  The standard Wade was held to was different than Jeter and Rodriguez who were allowed to make their own decisions and were respected for it. Wade, however, was supposed to maintain his post-retirement relationship with the Miami Heat, and Miami Heat owner Mickey Aronson had an obligation to give Wade a piece of his team. For many, the Utah Jazz is the Wade consolation prize. They are using Wade to transform their image.

Utah fans are thought of as the most racist fans in the league. But new owner Ryan Smith has openly backed Black Lives Matter and has matched donations from players who give to BLM. That he’s so woke doesn’t change the fan base though. Salt Lake City is 2% black. The religiosity of the city is Mormonism, including owner Smith. Mormonism has a historical legacy of racism. The Church of Latter-Day Saints used to teach that members “shall be white and a delightsome people” which comes straight out of the Book of Mormon. Before the ‘70s, the Mormon church restricted black men from becoming priests. More recently, social media has uncovered a Mormon alt-right community.

Those who think Wade is being used as a pawn so black players will willingly come to Utah disregard that Ryan Smith is a friend of Wade. That said, the cynical argument can’t be ignored. Let Wade buy into the team. Let Wade pitch free agents. Let Wade be the de-facto face of the franchise. A black man in a white place. How woke.

The Jazz is one of the best stories this season. They lead the Western Conference in scoring and are second in the conference in 3-point shooting (Clippers are 1st).  They make more 3-pointers than any other NBA team and they take more 3-pointers. Their wing scorer off the bench, Jordan Clarkson, is going to win Sixth Man of the Year. The Jazz are the best rebounding team in the league and fifth in blocks.

It’s clear that Wade wants a partnership with a peer and someone he can grow with as an owner. Pat Riley runs the show in Miami and that’s not changing, Wade or no Wade.  Wade had an opportunity to join the Heat but wouldn’t commit.  He wanted more than Miami could offer him.

“I want mentors”, Wade said. “Ryan [Smith] became a mentor to me. This was always a goal of mine, to someday be part of something bigger than I. We just talked about what it could look like. It was a holistic approach. We have similar pillars, things we believe in.”

Wade mentioned how important it was for kids who look like him to see that dreams come true. Growing up in Chicago with struggles Wade never expected he would ever own an NBA franchise. It would have been a perfect story: from Chicago to the Miami Heat, to Hall of Fame to Heat ownership. But perfect rarely happens.

For sake of argument, let’s say Wade is being used. Let’s say the Jazz want his popularity and his blackness. Let’s say Salt Lake Mormons fans will overlook his LGBTQ support. And his Black Lives Matter fealty. Wade is winning with this partnership deal like the Jazz are winning. He’s using them too. He has ownership in an NBA franchise. He’s getting the ability to play upstairs where the deals are being made. He’s an insider in the cloud-tech business. He gives the Jazz credibility and a profile they never had, even with Karl Malone and John Stockton. Wade chose them.

Utah just got themselves an elite free agent. He paid for it but right now Dwyane Wade is theirs.