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Jazz chaplain has spent 3 memorable decades giving spiritual guidance to franchise's players and others

Published: Sunday, March 10 2013 10:05 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz team chaplain Jerry Lewis greets players Feb. 12 from both the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder at a short prayer service before the game.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Professional athletes are often looked upon as a bunch of rich, high-rolling dudes whose annual income is often, unfortunately, much higher than their moral standards.

Indeed, far too often, we hear about athletes getting caught up in all sorts of scandals involving steroids or other drugs, alcohol, violence, sexual abuse, adultery, and every other one of society's many ills.

Some, it seems, have the moral values of an alley cat. Wise judgment and common sense are, unfortunately, qualities they often seem to shun.

But that's certainly not true with all athletes. Far from it, in fact.

The Utah Jazz have a long history of trying to make sure their roster is filled with folks who are not only first-rate basketball players but, perhaps even more importantly, first-class citizens as well.

And, to that end, the Jazz team chaplain, 75-year-old Jerry Lewis, plays an invaluable role in giving team members some spiritual guidance and, as a member of the clergy, does his best to help them with their off-court concerns and personal needs throughout the course of the season.

With that goal in mind, he offers a short, non-denominational Christian chapel service about an hour before the opening tipoff of each Jazz home game. What's more, players and coaches from each visiting team are invited to attend the pregame chapel services as well, along with any interested EnergySolutions Arena employees.

"The Jazz have always been particularly attentive to moral issues among their players," said Lewis, who shares the same name as the legendary comedic actor and longtime muscular dystrophy telethon host. "Sure, there have been a few that have slipped through but, by and large, they are really good guys. The Jazz are always searching for quality people. And we've got a wonderful bunch of fellas this year.

"One thing that's been thrilling this year is that, around the league, there has been a real pickup of interest in attending chapel. There's been a real spiritual wave of some sort. ... I think perhaps, like a lot of people of our culture, they're troubled by all the grief that they're seeing in the world today."

Before each Jazz home game, Lewis gathers chapel attendees, gives a short sermon and conducts a prayer circle for those in attendance, who are encouraged to share any prayerful needs they might have.

The entire service lasts from 15-20 minutes and is held on the court-level concourse of EnergySolutions Arena, in a small meeting room adjacent to the Hot Rod Hundley Media Center and just a short walk down the hallway from the Jazz locker room.

The Jazz have had six regular attendees at chapel services this season — Gordon Hayward, Earl Watson, Mo Williams, Jeremy Evans, Alec Burks and Al Jefferson — and Lewis is grateful for their participation, especially since there have been some years in the past when they only had one or two Jazz players who attended regularly.

"I think it's really important," Hayward, Utah's third-year swingman, said of the pregame services. "I think anytime you can get a group of guys together who goes to every game and really focuses on what's really important in life, it's pretty special. We know the reason we are out there playing basketball, that there's a lot bigger things than just the game.

"It's also pretty cool when you see the other team. They have a lot of guys as well. Golden State, it seemed like half of their team was in there (Tuesday night). That was pretty cool."

Watson, Utah's veteran point guard, agreed with his Jazz teammate.

"I think that's one thing the fans don't realize, (that) every NBA team offers that before the game," he said. "More people go than you realize. For myself and the guys on this team, we go mainly just to show our appreciation and being humble and being thankful for the blessings that we have.

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