NBA Rumor: Jerry Sloan Death

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The Utah Jazz today announced plans to honor the legacy of Hall of Fame Coach Jerry Sloan with a special tribute patch to be worn on team jerseys and warm-ups when the remainder of the 2019-20 season resumes in Orlando. The tribute patch will feature the number 1,223 in recognition of the total number of wins during Sloan’s 23 seasons as head coach of the Jazz. It will be worn for the first time on July 23 as part of the NBA restart.

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After Sloan died last Friday at the age of 78, several obituaries resurfaced his classic quote about C.J. Miles: “I don’t care if he’s 19 or 30. If he’s going to be on the floor in the NBA, he’s got to be able to step up and get after it. We can’t put diapers on him one night and a jockstrap the next night. It’s just the way it is.” In a phone interview, Miles called the quote “hilarious.” He remembers that Sloan said it during his second season, by which point he had plenty of experience with the coach’s brand of candor. He remembers that people thought his feelings would be hurt.

“People asked me about that,” Miles said. “I was like, no, it didn’t hurt my feelings. Because 1) he had said worse to me before, 2) I knew where he came from when he spoke to me. He wasn’t trying to embarrass me.” During his rookie season, Miles spotted Sloan and some other Jazz staffers while out with his agent and a couple of friends in New Jersey. He stopped by their table to exchange pleasantries. “You got some good size on you,” Sloan said to him. “You play ball?”

The Chicago Bulls legend with the steely defense and the hard-nosed reputation walked into Frank Layden’s office, hoping the Utah Jazz head coach would hire him for a scouting job. Layden didn’t know it at the time, but the two would become attached at the hip and lifelong friends and lead a team together that would become one of the standards of small-market NBA franchises. Layden, already legendary in Salt Lake City for the work he had done with the Jazz to that point, could feel Jerry Sloan’s presence. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Layden to know exactly what he was dealing with. He liked him immediately.

Sloan told Layden that day that he was coming to the Utah Jazz to learn from him. Layden told Sloan: “I know. That’s why I’m hiring you.” A few years later, Sloan informed Layden that he would never look for another job, that he would be fine being Layden’s assistant for the bulk of his career. Layden responded by resigning as head coach, taking the job as team president and offering to make Sloan his first hire. Sloan told Layden to slow down, take some time. “Is hiring me what you really want to do?” Sloan asked him. “He actually tried to talk himself out of the job,” Layden said with a laugh. “He was so humble and so appreciative. It was wonderful.”

Forty-six of his 78 years were in the NBA, where he was a player, a gangly man with dark hair and elbows that busted open noses and a piss-and-vinegar grit that allowed him to climb comfortably under the skin of some of the legends in the game. Legends Sloan, himself, would say he had no business being in the same sentence with, but unfortunately for him, that’s not true. He was “The Original Bull,” selected by the expansion Chicago Bulls way back when, a man whose No. 4 jersey is now retired in the rafters. He was an All-Star, a man who felt like his job was always on the line every night.

And, of course, there was (and forever will be) the aura of Sloan. The man who so many felt connected to, despite never having shaken his massive right hand. To countless folks, he was a father or grandfather or uncle or family friend who knew basketball, who led their favorite team for 82 games a year for 23 straight seasons. He was the man who called for the “High C” over and over. The Jazz had a stunning 20 straight playoff appearances from 1984 to 2003 and made back-to-back NBA Finals in the late 1990s. Out front of what is now Vivint Smart Home Arena, the men who Sloan helped mold are melded in bronze and frozen in time: Karl Malone is about to drop a nifty hook shot. John Stockton is dishing out what seems to be a patented no-look pass that only his teammates would grab hold of.

Even though Sloan never won a championship — and, incredibly, was never named NBA Coach of the Year — George Karl said he was one of the most gifted coaches he has ever seen. “I’d put Jerry as one of the top three or four all time I’ve ever faced,” said Karl, who sits two spots behind Sloan at No. 6 on the all-time coaching wins list. “His teams were really difficult to play against. They were very tough-minded, very team-oriented. “Jerry would not tolerate a lot of the NBA bulls— that goes on. He was demanding, but respectful. Every Utah Jazz player I ever spoke to had nothing but great things to say about him.”

Former NBA official Joey Crawford said he warned younger refs that if they decided to slap Sloan with a technical, they should immediately turn and walk away to defuse the situation. “But here’s the wonderful thing about Jerry,” Crawford said. “He’d get mad, but you could go back at him and say a lot of stuff to him, and he would never ever rat you out. You could even curse him out, but he was never going to call the league office the next morning to complain, like some other coaches would. “I had a helluva lot of respect for the man. We all did.”

In some ways he never fully left that life. Despite fame and million-dollar salaries, he often drove to the arena in an old van, parking it alongside the luxury cars his players drove. Pretentious, he was not. In the offseason he returned to his Illinois farm, rising at dawn each morning to work in the fields in bib overalls or an old Jazz polo shirt. “Nobody does this unless they have to,” Bobbye would tell him. His reply: “It’s cheaper than a psychiatrist.” His old friends said he never changed despite his worldly success.

During his playing career, Sloan collected numerous broken bones, pulled muscles, floor burns and bruises. His nose was broken so many times that he stopped getting it fixed. His elbow required surgery after years of slamming it into the court. He once popped a pelvic tendon, and the noise was so loud that Bobbye ran out of the stands onto the court. “He was in the hospital so many times,” Bobbye said. His knees were drained more than 20 times. He tried to come back from knee surgery for a 12th season, but the damage was too extensive. As Bobbye recounted, “The team physician used to tell him, ‘You know you’re going to pay for this.’”

“Coach Sloan was honest to a fault,” said ESPN’s Marc Spears, who has covered the NBA for two decades. “Once he was comfortable with you, he would allow you inside his amazing basketball brain. I loved his humility. He was a very simple man who didn’t take life too seriously. I really enjoyed looking at my schedule and seeing a game that had the Jazz on it. He was the only head coach that would eat in the media room. “The last time I saw him, I told him how much he meant to me. I relished every moment I was able to spend with him.”

Alex English: I had an opportunity to play for the Utah Jazz under Jerry Sloan my last NBA season. I opted to go play with the Dallas Mavericks. That was one of the biggest mistakes of my NBA career. I admired Sloan as a player and Coach. He was tough as both, but like Doug Moe he was a Player’s Coach. The Mavericks were going through a tumultuous time in its history, and was not the place for an aging player near the end of his career. I feel with Jerry Sloan at the helm I could possibly have played 2 to 3 more years because he had been a player and knew how to handle the situation. Rest in peace Coach Sloan. The NBA has lost another Legend.

WHe was a huge authority, similar to European coaches but with serious respect for each player and their personalities. You may have found out [that Sloan was so highly-paid] on the internet or in the newspapers because that information is public in the United States,” Pavlovic added on Sloan. “However, Sloan never showed any arrogance, nor did he show that anything is measured by money. I always remember the pictures of him coming to training in a truck, like the rest of the world.”

Ira Winderman: Pat Riley statement on the passing of former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, “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. Loyalty was his badge of honor and his no nonsense approach to competition was perfect for the game. Jerry will go down in history as one of the most admired great winners and respected teachers of basketball ever. I am humbled and saddened by his passing.”

“Our Hall of Fame coach for 23 years, Jerry had a tremendous impact on the Jazz franchise as expressed by his banner hanging in the arena rafters. His 1,223 Jazz coaching wins, 20 trips to the NBA Playoffs and two NBA Finals appearances are remarkable achievements. His hard-nosed approach only made him more beloved. Even after his retirement, his presence at Jazz games always brought a roaring response from the crowd.v Like Stockton and Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization. He will be greatly missed. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Tammy, the entire Sloan family and all who knew and loved him.”

From the Miller Family: “It was an honor and a privilege to have one of the greatest and most respected coaches in NBA history coaching our team. We have appreciated our relationship with Jerry and acknowledge his dedication to and passion for the Utah Jazz. He has left an enduring legacy with this franchise and our family. The far-reaching impact of his life has touched our city, state and the world as well as countless players, staff and fans. We pray his family will find solace and comfort in Jerry’s life. The Miller family and Jazz organization will be proud to honor him with a permanent tribute.”
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