The room was crowded and, as was his lot in life, Jon Huntsman Sr. found himself at the head of it.

There were all kinds of important people hanging around who wanted to visit with the man and none of them had to labor hard to get the chance. He was available. At every turn, he was there for them, smiling warmly, looking folks directly in the eyes as he talked with them, jackhammering their hands up and down, asking them about their lives.

From where he stood, in the middle of those many conversations, Huntsman spotted way in the back of the large room a sports writer, decked out in a T-shirt and shorts. He gently nudged through the crowd, nodding left and right as he meandered to the rear wall.

When he arrived, before I could say a single word, he took my hand, asked about my wife and kids, and then … we discussed the Jazz, the Utes, the Cougars, the Utes again, the Aggies, the Utes some more, then Kyle Whittingham, Larry Krystkowiak, LaVell Edwards, Rick Majerus.

We swapped some stories, oh, man, did we ever.

And then he stopped the conversation, complimented my work in a manner I’ve never forgotten and never will. Then we took one more lap around everything Utes, and he wished my family well, again.

If Jon Huntsman was a billionaire, he acted more like a buddy. If he was a financial wizard, he seemed more a friend.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune The University of Utah's men's and women's basketball teams pause to take in their surroundings in their new practice facility, the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Center, during grand opening ceremony on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, Thursday, October 1, 2015.

He was a guy you could sit down and drink a cold pop with and talk some sports. He did not comport himself like a man who at any second could pull out his cell phone and punch up Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, or the leader of the free world in the Oval Office. If that kind of bearing existed, it emanated more in a presumption from the other side of the table, not his.

I mean, he was Jon Freaking Huntsman. He knew that. He knew what he had accomplished and the thousands and thousands of people he had influenced and helped — in ways as diverse as donating hundreds of millions of dollars to beating the monster of our time — cancer — all the way across the spectrum to making so-called ordinary people feel as significant as he was.

Sometimes, when you talked with him, he made you feel like the big shot.

And because he made you feel like the big shot, you believed him.

Not many people in the world have that kind of presence, that kind of awareness and generosity of spirit, that kind of gift to give.

On that matter of gifts, when he died on Friday, he was 80, a titan who had built a business empire and made a mountain of money. If he had lived to be 100, he might have given away darn-near all of it.

The sports thing was real to him. The Utes were real to him. In their case, he gave them millions to build facilities, to further their winning, to use his personal jet on occasion and benefit from all the material goods, but he also gave them his heart. The physical gifts were simply a manifestation of what was pumping through his veins.

Huntsman once sponsored a rec-league softball team that might have been the tallest squad ever to take the diamond. It was made up of Utah basketball players, including guys like Tom Chambers and Danny Vranes.

He loved basketball.

He used to say he held the record for the least amount of points scored in a basketball career in NCAA history, remembered Utah athletic director Chris Hill: “He scored one point on a free throw at Penn.”

Majerus, a coach not easily impressed, once described with abject sincerity the mark of gratitude Huntsman left on him: “He’s a man I fully respect,” Big Rick said of Big Jon.

(Steve Griffin | Tribune File Photo) Utah athletic director Chris Hill and Jon and Karen Huntsman laugh as University of Utah head men's basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak talks during grand opening ceremony of the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Center on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, Thursday, October 1, 2015.

Hill called Huntsman not just a generous contributor to Utah sports, but an incredible friend.

“He was a positive, excited fan,” said Hill. “Not overly demonstrative when things didn’t go well. … He knew details about the players, about who we were scheduling. It was fun for him. … Even with his passion for fighting cancer, he found time to be involved with us.”

Jazz owner Gail Miller, whose late husband Larry was often treated at the Huntsman hospital, said in a statement: “Jon was a close friend, advisor and confidant to Larry and me, as well as our family. … He was also a faithful supporter of the Jazz and his presence in our lives and at the arena will be greatly missed. Jon added so much to our family and faith. … We are deeply saddened at the loss of such an incredible friend.”

Friend. Friend. Friend.

He wasn’t the billionaire on the other side of the table, he was your friend.

Huntsman made his money and his money made him important, made him the steward of endless responsibilities and the facilitator of a whole lot of good causes.

But, like Hill said, sports for him, the emotion it stirred, ran deep, especially when it came to Ute hoops.

Fitting, that his name is on Utah’s arena, the Jon M. Huntsman Center, where his funeral will be held, and the school’s practice gym, the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility. That money he made allowed him to advance both sports in Utah and Utah sports. In that way, he was different from a lot of other fans. He was a bigger deal. But you wouldn’t have known it by talking with him.

“A lot of people think if you’ve got a lot of money, you’re not as passionate as the common fan,” Hill said.

Not so with Jon Huntsman.

The enthusiasm he oozed, the details he noted, the attention he paid, the rush he felt, the thrill he gained was exactly the same as commoners like you and me.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.