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President Monson cheers on Jazz

His attendance at game creates extra buzz, excitement

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President Thomas S. Monson, left, and his wife, Frances, sit in Row 3 at Friday's Jazz-Clippers game.

President Thomas S. Monson, left, and his wife, Frances, sit in Row 3 at Friday’s Jazz-Clippers game.

Danny Chan La, Deseret Morning News

He drew a big crowd courtside while trying to leave EnergySolutions Arena after the Utah Jazz game on Friday night. He chatted and laughed with some excited basketball fans, waved at others, patted a baby on the head, and smiled a lot as numerous cameras flashed.

He even shocked Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and players by his presence and greeting.

Karl Malone? John Stockton maybe?

Not exactly.

The excitement and buzz courtside during and after the Jazz's 121-101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers wasn't for a basketball player. It was actually for President Thomas S. Monson, the new leader of the LDS Church who attended the game on a date with his wife, Frances.

"I thought it was a wonderful game — well played," President Monson told the Deseret Morning News after spending time mingling with the crowd.

"Glad that we won."

This wasn't the first Jazz game for President Monson. In fact, his secretary said he attends one or two a month. Usually, however, he watches the game from Jon Huntsman Sr.'s private box suite, so the crowd often doesn't even know he's there.

This time, though, he was almost front and center. President Monson and his party sat on the third row. He cheered, clapped, joked with fans and had a fun night at the game even while surprising many there.

His unexpected visit might have surprised Sloan and his players most of all.

With about five minutes remaining in the third quarter, the game was in a timeout when President Monson and his group returned to their seats from their halftime break. As they passed the Jazz bench, the affable church leader stopped at the Jazz huddle. He then greeted players by smiling and pointing at them in a friendly manner.

President Monson then really surprised Sloan. During the timeout, he walked by and patted the coach on the shoulder and gave him a cheerful salutation. Sloan, who was celebrating his birthday, looked stunned and admitted he didn't exactly know what was happening or who was behind him.

"I was trying to see what was going on, but I couldn't see who it was because I had my head down," Sloan said. "When I turned around, they were leaving and I couldn't see."

It wasn't until after the game that Jazz officials informed Sloan who had greeted him. The coach had never met President Monson personally before Friday's timeout. He said it was "fine" after he found out who patted his shoulder. The Jazz even went on a 27-11 run after his quick visit.

"Well, I'm always a little gun shy. Somebody gets in a huddle (and) you never know what's happening, especially if you're the coach," he said with a laugh. "Somebody might want to yank you out of there."

The players were also caught a little off-guard but laughed about it after the game. Carlos Boozer said he was surprised that President Monson was saying "Hi to everybody."

"And then they told me after the game that he was the president of the church. Is that what he is? That's cool," Boozer said. "He didn't say hello to me, though. ... He tapped Jerry on the shoulder and it was like, 'Good job, coach. You're the best.' And Jerry was like, 'Who was that?"'

Many fans could have clued them in. And the players and coach are certainly no strangers to President Monson, who smiled and said, "Oh, yes," when asked if he was a Jazz fan.

"Always have been," he said.

And his favorite Jazz player?

"I like a lot of them," President Monson admitted. "I like that new man, (Kyle) Korver. I like (Matt) Harpring's gutsy way of playing. He's all right."

E-mail: jody@desnews.com