Jerry Sloan, who amassed the fourth-most victories in NBA coaching history, died on May 22 in Salt Lake City. He was 78.
Sloan battled Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia in his latter years.
A 2009 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Sloan guided the Utah Jazz from 1988 to 2011. Sloan led them to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Only all-time leader Don Nelson (1,335), Lenny Wilkens (1,332), and Gregg Popovich (1,272) won more games.
A remarkable run
Sloan had one losing season in his 23 years at the helm in Salt Lake City. From 1988-89 to 2002-03, he led the Jazz to 15 consecutive playoff appearances. He previously coached the Chicago Bulls, the team for which he spent the majority of his playing career.
The Illinois native is one of only five NBA head coaches who patrolled the sidelined in more than 2,000 games. He finished his coaching career with 1,221 victories and 803 losses.
Like peerless practitioners Karl Malone and John Stockton, Sloan was synonymous with the Jazz’s pristine pick-and-roll, a finely calibrated staple of the team’s offense.
“Like Stockton and Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization,” read a team-issued statement. “He will be greatly missed.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said “Jerry Sloan was among the NBA’s most respected and admired legends.”
The commissioner added: “His more than 40 years in the NBA also paralleled a period of tremendous growth in the league, a time when we benefited greatly from his humility, kindness, dignity and class.”
Former Jazz forward Thurl Bailey tweeted, “Heaven better be ready for you Jerry. Go coach ’‘em up! Thanks for the privilege of playing for you. Rest In Peace coach.”
Remembering Jerry Sloan
Spurs coach Popovich said: “It’s a sad day for all of us who knew Jerry Sloan. Not only on the basketball court but, more importantly, as a human being. He was genuine and true. And that is rare. He was a mentor for me from afar until I got to know him. A man who suffered no fools, he possessed a humor, often disguised, and had a heart as big as the prairie.”
Detroit Pistons bench boss Dwane Casey described Sloan as a “warrior” and recalled first getting to know in 1980, when he was a Western Kentucky assistant under Clem Haskins.
“They played together on the Chicago Bulls. Jerry and Clem spoke every summer at our camp,” Casey said. “They would tell stories about their playing days, and I hung on every word. I would never have imagined we would be coaching against each other when I was an assistant at Seattle and then as a head coach myself. All of us who love to coach have learned many lessons from Coach Sloan. I send my thoughts to his family and he will be truly missed.”
Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen made these remarks: “I loved everything about Jerry Sloan, from the way he played to the way he coached. He was a tenacious competitor who represented the Bulls of the ’70s so well. Jerry became one of my favorite coaches when he was on the 1996 Dream Team staff and it was an honor to learn from him.”
‘One of the top five coaches in NBA history’
George Karl concluded that his rival was a great coach.
“Jerry, in my mind, is one of the top five coaches that I coached against,” Karl said, according to The Associated Press. “Because of that, I would say he’s probably one of the top five coaches in NBA history. … Jerry was a very loyal and very demanding old-school coach. It was all about playing the right way and playing hard. It’s pretty simple: If you didn’t play hard and you didn’t play the right way, you didn’t play.”
Miami Heat President Pat Riley, another accomplished hoop mentor who matched wits with Sloan, summed up his rival’s legacy this way: “It was a privilege to play against a Jerry Sloan-coached team, I always knew that we would be severely tested. His overall philosophy on both sides of the ball was fundamentally solid and always one step ahead of the game.”
A coaching milestone for Jerry Sloan
On Dec. 11, 2006, the Jazz defeated the Dallas Mavericks 101-79 as Jerry Sloan recorded his 1,000th career victory as a head coach. Only four men had reached that milestone before him.
A shooting guard/small forward, Jerry Sloan retired in 1976 after a decade with Chicago, then served as an assistant coach on the Bulls (1978-82) and later worked as a Jazz assistant (1985-88) before replacing Frank Layden on the bench.
Sloan left an indelible mark on the Utah Jazz.
Just ask current Jazz coach Quin Snyder, one of his successors in Salt Lake City.
“I was honored by the opportunity to follow in Coach Sloan’s giant footsteps, and subsequently humbled by the task of trying to uphold the standards and the success that are synonymous with his legacy,” Snyder was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. “The clear identity that he established for Jazz Basketball — unselfishness, toughness and the essential importance of Team — has always left a palpable responsibility to strive for in carrying forward.”
Jerry Sloan, a University of Evansville standout, was selected fourth overall in the 1965 NBA Draft. The Salisbury Daily Times, a Maryland newspaper, carried an article about the draft on page 11 of its May 7 issue.
The headline: “Bullets Try To Bolster Backcourt Weakness In Draft.” The secondary head: “Jerry Sloan Is No. 1 Pick.”
In the seven-paragraph Associated Press article, Buddy Jeanette, Baltimore’s coaching and acting general manager, commented that Sloan “can help us a whole lot.”
After spending one season with the Bullets (who are now known as the Washington Wizards), Sloan was sent to the Bulls via the expansion draft. His gritty, hard-nosed style of play fit in well with the city’s blue-collar image. The Bulls retired his No. 4. He became the first player in team history to hold that distinction.
Sloan averaged 14.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 755 games during his pro career. He was selected as an NBA All-Defensive First Team player four times and twice named to the league’s All-Defensive Second Team. Sloan was an All-Star in 1967 and ’69. He averaged a career-best 18.3 points in the 1970-71 season.
Sam Smith’s tribute
Sam Smith, a longtime chronicler of the Chicago Bulls and the NBA, penned a terrific remembrance piece about Sloan for Bulls.com.
Smith captured the essence of Sloan as a player, as a coach, and as a man in his poignant article.
He described Sloan as being “about work.” Good description.
“Nothing fancy,” Smith wrote of Sloan. “He wasn’t the most talented or the most famous. He didn’t possess the seismic natural gifts. The glare of attention didn’t come his way. Better than a hard hat, he actually did come to work in a John Deere cap. Sloan’s game even resembled a tractor, determined, relentless, austere, and reliable.”
Smith added: “There wasn’t much grace associated with Jerry. Unless you delight in watching someone take a charge or charge at Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was the strongest and most feared player of his day. Players ran from Wilt. Jerry ran toward him, leaping in front of Wilt to take a charge and then leaping up in front of a glaring Wilt to challenge, ‘I’m not scared of you!’ ”