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Laughable, lovable Layden wanted basketball to be fun

Frank Layden, a donor and volunteer for numerous charitable organizations, made pro basketball fun in Utah, according to Dave Checketts.
Frank Layden, a donor and volunteer for numerous charitable organizations, made pro basketball fun in Utah, according to Dave Checketts.
Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Frank Layden wasn’t only about laughs. That part sometimes gets overlooked, though it’s easy to see why.

“They worship this body in India,” he would say when he was at his highest weight.

Later he would tell his audience, “I won’t be long — they feed me again at 10 p.m.”

Tuesday at Vivint Arena, there will be both laughs and seriousness as the BYU Management Society honors the former Jazz coach with its annual Distinguished Citizen Award.

“You had to love him and you had to love the Jazz because of the way he reacted,” said Dave Checketts, who will be among those on hand to honor Layden.

Checketts joined the Jazz management team as a 28-year-old after being recommended by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Layden had been holding down the post as both general manager and coach.

“I think he was nervous about what my coming meant for him, and I certainly didn’t know how he’d accept me, but it became, I think, a great team,” said Checketts.

He went on to say that though there were “many, many, many funny moments” between them, “we were both very serious about building the club.”

Later Checketts became president of the New York Knicks.

“I couldn’t have ever done what I did in New York without those seven seasons with Frank,” Checketts said.

Layden, a donor and volunteer for numerous charitable organizations, made pro basketball fun in Utah, according to Checketts. That was challenging when the franchise was still teetering on extinction.

After one game, in which a high-profile booster had been tossed by the referee, Layden complained that the tickets were expensive enough “he should be able to drop his pants if he wants.”

“I would cringe at half the stuff he said,” Checketts said. “But he always said, ‘If I can’t have fun doing this, when exactly can you have fun?’”

Proceeds for the event will go for need-based scholarships for local high school seniors.

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