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A Winner Lost in Shuffle
Out in Ashburn, Greg Blache is said to represent continuity after the Redskins' defensive line coach was promoted to defensive coordinator a week ago. That we even deign to bring up continuity in this town while Sloan is visiting seems more than provincial.
Part of the reason Sloan hasn't gotten his due is because he's been hard on his players, cursing them out like only Lou Gossett Jr. could curse out Richard Gere.
A Sports Illustrated poll last year listed Sloan as an NBA coach players like to play for the least. Sloan tied for second with Scott Skiles, whom the Bulls fired this year, and Isiah Thomas at 12 percent. (Pat Riley won at 28 percent and Phil Jackson was fifth at 4 percent.) Sloan said he has mellowed since the death of his first wife, Bobbye, of breast cancer several years ago. But to such an ultra-competitive guy as Sloan, who came in as a Baltimore Bullet in 1964 (Abe Pollin and his partners paid him $12,500 for his rookie season), it was hard to see other teams as merely opponents.
"My first basketball game here in Baltimore, this is 1965," Sloan begins. His teammates told him then, "It was no big deal to lose your first game."
"I was heartbroken," he said. "They said, 'We only got 78 games left or something like that.' I thought, 'Wow, that's really weak.' I felt bad. I didn't get to play very much, but I felt bad. I was always taught, growing up, that you play this game to win. You put everything you have into it. If you don't like it, get another job."
Did we mention Sloan fouled out of six of the first seven games he played with the Bullets?
He has one more year left on his current contract and hasn't committed to returning. Sloan plays down his longevity, too, saying Stockton and Malone were behind most of it. "I was spoiled," he said. "No question about it. I thought it was all my coaching."
When he was asked a year ago how a perfectionist like himself could hang around for 20 years, he smiled.
"People said I would never be able to coach in this league because I'd get too frustrated," Sloan said.
Twenty years after he was hired -- nearly 200 coaching changes later in the NBA -- Jerry Sloan walked out of the locker room to lead the Jazz against yet another team. That's continuity.