By Mark Wright
Tim Howells' Jazz Saga
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The fans in Utah love their Utah Jazz. They
celebrate each exhilarating win and mourn each devastating loss. Unlike
major sports cities that can claim teams from the NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL,
the sports faithful in Utah have only the Jazz to fulfill their high-energy
sports dreams. Given the relative scarcity of big-time athletes, it's not
surprising that Jazz fans are very serious about their basketball team. Tim
Howells, season ticket holder since the Jazz came to Utah, is one of those
big-time Utah Jazz fans.
Howells' love of sports in general and basketball in particular can be
traced to his early years, when he developed a keenly competitive spirit.
The son of an avid amateur golfer, Howells grew up loving golf and "hated to
lose at anything." Howells was able to recognize only later in life that the
same extremely competitive nature that fueled some of his greatest
accomplishments also led to the moments of his greatest despair. As a young
man, Howells eventually discovered basketball and he was hooked, spending
many of his formative years playing and watching the game. However,
basketball wasn't the only thing from his younger years that would shape his
Growing up, he was a somewhat rebellious teenager who decided not to live by
all of the principles espoused by his devoutly LDS mother. Even though his
mother was very disappointed, Howells engaged in certain behaviors that were
in conflict with his LDS background. These lifestyle deviations included
smoking cigarettes and drinking the occasional beer. Howells freely admits
that these indulgences were the direct result of his basically selfish
nature. Howells eventual journey back to his Gospel roots and the principles
that his mother had taught him began almost by accident.
At the very young age of 19, Howells was diagnosed with an ulcer that forced
him to alter his diet and he started to cut back on his party lifestyle.
During this period of relative calm, he graduated from college, then met and
married his wife Patty. Thereafter, he began to pour his energy into the
family's paint business, helping his brother expand it from a small company
with less than 10 employees to a multi-store enterprise employing nearly 100
At the age of 27, Howells says he was finally able to align his personal
behavior with his own LDS religious beliefs and upbringing. From that point
forward, integrity, responsibility, and adherence to Gospel principles took
control of his life. He returned to the basic Gospel teachings that he had
spurned as a boy and found them to be an anchor he could rely on. He also
found that he could use the stability of Gospel principles to help him
control his formerly self-indulgent ways. Howells says that the decision to
conform his behavior to Gospel principles is what helped him strengthen his
marriage and family life. Finally comfortable with himself, Tim Howells
apparently had everything going for him when, out of the blue, he was
contacted by Larry Miller, the owner of the Utah Jazz.
At the time, Miller and Howells were next-door neighbors and, apparently,
Miller had been watching Tim and thinking about him for a while. Since Larry
and Tim were both members of the LDS church, they attended the same ward.
They probably sat in neighboring pews during Sacrament meeting and attended
Ward parties together. In addition, their wives were close friends. All of
this means that Miller had plenty of time to evaluate Howells and his
potential. So, one day, Larry asked his friend and neighbor Tim to come over
for a visit. They talked about a lot of things, none of them related to
basketball, for a very long time. Howells wasn't even really sure why he was
there. Finally, at the end of the lengthy three-hour visit, Miller dropped
the bomb. "Tim, do you want to be general manager of the Jazz?" Just like
that, Howells had his fantasy job handed to him on silver platter.
"It was a dream come true for me," Howells says. "In that moment, I thought
I had died and gone to heaven." Tim Howells took the job and immediately
began to care about the Jazz even more. Although he didn't know it at the
time, Howells' love of the Jazz would prove his eventual undoing. The
problem was, in the big picture, Howells cared about the Jazz too much.
After Jazz losses, Howells couldn't bring himself to read the local papers
or watch the sports on TV. He didn't want to answer fans' probing questions.
He wanted to hide away from the other people who also cared very much about
the Utah Jazz. Year after year, every early playoff exit chopped off a
little piece of his heart. In addition, everyone always wanted to know why
the Jazz couldn't win it all.
There was no escape, even at church. The members of Howells' LDS ward wanted
to know why the Jazz had lost. Even his beloved family members asked
questions that Howells didn't want to answer. Finally, after 10 years and
the consecutive devastating losses to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA finals in
1997 and 1998, Howells just couldn't take it any more. He felt like
something in him had died and he realized that he simply cared too much
about the Jazz to keep his job any longer. So, on Dec. 31, 1999, Tim Howells
voluntarily walked away from the job that he loved.
What do you do after you walk away from your dream job? Where do you go and
what do you do? Apparently, Howells still isn't sure. After leaving the
Jazz, he initially decided to take over as the president of a start-up
company that wanted to make money and help young people learn leadership and
service at the same time. While promising at first, Howells lasted less than
11 months before he left. It seems that Howells simply couldn't put his
heart into it and today, more than a year after leaving the Jazz, Howells is
unemployed, searching for something that he can really care about.
While he will be forever grateful for the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity"
that Larry Miller gave him, he knows, deep down inside, that he will never
be the same again. One other thing that Howells knows is that some things
are even more important than the Utah Jazz. It's obvious that Howells'
return to Gospel principles has served him well when he says, "Now, my
family is the most important thing to me." However, that being said, it also
seems quite certain that the Utah Jazz will always own a little piece of
Losses Took a Toll on Former Jazz GM
Salt Lake Tribune 6Feb01 S2
By Gordon Monson: Salt Lake Tribune