Lewy body dementia (LBD) raises havoc with memory, movement and cognitive ability. Five years after his diagnosis, Jerry Sloan’s hand trembles and his recall wavers. But he still can make people smile. When I saw him a few months ago, I asked what he had been doing lately. “I had my breakfast,” he said.
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On New Year’s Day he was entirely his old self, his wife Tammy says. But he later went through what both call a “rough” period. There is no medication that can reverse, slow or stop LBD, but there are treatments to ease symptoms. Sloan has his own remedy. He attends nearly all Jazz home games, sitting with Tammy, a half dozen rows behind the team bench, willingly shaking hands and posing with star-struck fans. He watches all road games on TV.
A week ago, Karl Malone flew in for what Tammy calls “a five-hour lunch.” John Stockton calls weekly, and whenever he’s in town takes the coach to lunch. Hornacek, who coached after his playing days, met with Sloan outside the Knicks locker room last year. Andrei Kirilenko once wept at practice over differences with Sloan, yet last season walked down the Vivint Arena hallway, one arm draped around him. “All his former players call,” Tammy says. Even Deron Williams, whose clashes with Sloan triggered the coach’s retirement, has since praised the longtime coach.
Friday morning started with a visit to, at least by Tammy Sloan’s estimation, the only man in Utah who hasn’t been following the Jazz’s first-round playoff series: her husband’s doctor. It has been just more than two years since Jerry Sloan revealed to the world that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia, diseases that have begun to strip the mind and motor skills of one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. There are good days. More and more, there are bad ones because that’s how diseases so cruel work.
On this day, however, the 76-year-old Sloan feels well enough to have a stranger in his immaculate home on the southwest side of the Salt Lake Valley, to sit and answer a reporter’s questions. “He’s going to pick your brain,” his wife says. “It won’t take him long,” the coach deadpans.
Jerry Sloan is still a towering figure, standing 6 feet, 5 inches tall, dressed in a blue Jazz sweatshirt with the team’s blue and purple mountain logo from 2004-10, blue pants and white Adidas sneakers. He is no longer as imposing as he once was when he was the fiery leader of the Jazz. He moves a little more slowly and his eyes have softened. He takes a seat in the corner of his office and places his massive hand on his knee. It immediately starts to shake.
“I feel OK,” he says, and he speaks matter-of-factly about his condition. “I’ve got a disease. It’s really kind of strange because my mind changes and then I can’t remember. That throws me off a little bit.” The symptoms of his Lewy body dementia have been “kicking in more lately,” his wife says, so sometimes he loses his train of thought. Then the coach laughs to himself. “My brain’s been misfiring my whole life,” he says.
Sloan’s doctors recommend he remain active — physically and socially — to combat the effects of his dementia, so his wife keeps his calendar full. They go out most nights, often enjoying dinner with former Jazz coach Frank Layden and his wife, Barbara, or with former Jazz center Mark Eaton. Sloan and other longtime Jazz staffers meet for lunch on the first Tuesday of each month. And as often as they can, Jerry and Tammy Sloan will be at the arena. “The games really are the highlight of his life right now,” Tammy Sloan says.
Sloan sat last week with John Stockton, the Hall of Fame point guard, who remains one of Sloan’s closest friends. Stockton calls each week to check in on his coach’s health. “He made more money than everybody else,” Sloan says. “We try to stay as close to him as possible.”
But something so simple isn’t so simple anymore for the 74-year-old Hall of Fame coach. “I was told I have Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia,” Sloan said, recounting his diagnosis from his home. Sloan takes medication every day, hoping to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that affects the central nervous system and causes all sorts of movement problems like tremors.
The battle isn’t only affecting Sloan, either. His wife, Tammy, and the rest of his family have had to watch, trying to help in Sloan’s fight as best they can. “I haven’t heard anyone say it’s going to be easy,” Sloan said, “so just take your lumps and go on.”
The most difficult part is what comes next — or more specifically, not knowing what comes next. “I’m not scared,” Sloan said, wiping away tears. “I’m just scared of shaking for days on days. If I could get that stopped, I’d be in pretty good shape. “You’ve got to take advantage of every day you can, because there might be a rough road ahead of you.”
Jazz Statement on Jerry Sloan: “Jerry Sloan is and always will be a beloved member of the Utah Jazz family, and we know he will approach this fight with the same grit and determination he displayed as a Hall of Fame coach and All-Star player in the NBA for 40-plus years. On behalf of the Miller family, the Jazz organization and Jazz fans everywhere, we send Jerry and his wife Tammy our love, support and best wishes.”
Jerry Sloan is suffering from Parkinson’s disease plus Lewy body dementia, the former Utah Jazz coach told the Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. During an interview at his home in Riverton, with his wife Tammy at his side, Sloan said he was diagnosed with the illnesses last fall.
He decided to go public with because the Parkinson’s symptoms, which include tremors, a hushed voice and sleeplessness, have progressed to the point where people have started to notice. “I don’t want people feeling sorry for me,” said Sloan, who continues to walk four miles a day.
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