“Jerry Sloan was among the NBA’s most respected and admired legends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “He was the first coach to win 1,000 games with the same organization, which came to embody the qualities that made Jerry a Hall of Famer: persistence, discipline, drive and selflessness. His more than 40 years in the NBA paralleled a period of tremendous growth in the league, a time when we benefited greatly from his humility, kindness, dignity and class.”
In a league shaped by superstars and big personalities, Sloan stood out as unpretentious — so much so that he often ate his pregame meal in the media room alongside reporters. The youngest of 10 children, Sloan lost his father at a young age and, without a car, had to hitchhike to get to his youth games.
Sloan drew motivation from a high school coach who warned against laziness by referring to his players as “drugstore cowboys sitting up there drinking milkshakes.” He took the message to heart — “No one wanted to be a drugstore cowboy,” he said at his 2009 Hall of Fame induction — and earned all-state honors before landing at Evansville College, where he worked his way onto the NBA radar as a defensive-minded guard.
“Nobody fights with Jerry because you know the price would be too high,” Jazz executive Frank Layden said in 1996, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “You might come out the winner; at his age, you might even lick him, but you’d lose an eye, an arm, your testicles in the process. Everything would be gone. He’s a throwback, a blue-collar guy, a dirt farmer. I know you’re going to think I’m kidding when I say this, but I saw Jerry Sloan fight at the Alamo. I saw him at Harpers Ferry. I saw him at Pearl Harbor. He’s loyal. He’s a hard worker. He’s a man.”
After being drafted in 1965 by the Baltimore Bullets, he moved back to Illinois when the Bulls selected him in the expansion draft a year later. Sloan made the all-star team in 1967 and 1969 and earned six all-defensive team selections. He retired in 1976 with career averages of 14.0 points and 7.4 rebounds over 11 seasons, and the Bulls retired his No. 4 jersey two years later. Sloan launched his NBA coaching career as an assistant with the Bulls in 1978, rising to the head job one year later.
“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago,” Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Jerry was the face of the Bulls organization from its inception through the mid-1970s, and very appropriately, his uniform No. 4 was the first jersey retired by the team.”
Utah became Sloan’s second home, and his timing was perfect. The Jazz, having relocated from New Orleans in 1979, was still a relatively young and unaccomplished franchise when Sloan took over during the 1988-89 season. But the rise of Stockton and Malone turned the organization into a perennial winner, with Sloan overseeing three 60-win seasons, 15 straight playoff berths and six trips to the Western Conference finals. Sloan inspired intense loyalty from his signature stars because, as Stockton noted, he “never asked for credit; he avoids it.”
That run, plus a successful second act building around Deron Williams in the 2000s, put Sloan fourth all time in regular season wins (1,221) and sixth in playoff victories (98).
“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz,” the team said in a statement announcing his death of complications from Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia. “He will forever be a part of the Utah Jazz organization, and we join his family, friends and fans in mourning his loss. We are so thankful for what he accomplished here in Utah and the decades of dedication, loyalty and tenacity he brought to our franchise. Like Stockton and Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization. He will be greatly missed.”
Sloan’s old-school stubbornness was bound to catch up with him, given the NBA’s dramatic cultural evolution during his tenure. Long-simmering tension with Williams boiled over in 2011, leading Sloan to resign midseason. Sloan said simply that it was “time to move on,” and then-commissioner David Stern said the coach had “epitomized all the positives of team sports.”
Williams, who was traded shortly after Sloan’s departure, said Friday that they had patched things up in recent years.
“I know things didn’t end well between us in Utah, however I’m glad that I got the chance to sit down with him before it was too late,” he wrote on Instagram. “... Blessed that I got to play for him and learn so much from him.”
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