Jerry Sloan was a Hall of Famer, the Original Bull and a Jazz legend, a dirt farmer and a folk hero, a hardnosed and sharp-elbowed defender, a coach who carved teams up with the pick-and-roll, a giant in a John Deere cap, a man who had little use for tuxedos and no patience for jackpotting around, a husband, and a father.
Sloan, who coached the Utah Jazz to 1,223 wins during 23 seasons as the franchise's head coach, died Friday, May 22, 2020, at his Salt Lake home. He was 78.
He will be greatly missed.
Gerald Eugene Sloan was born in McLeansboro, Illinois. Sloan was the youngest of 10 children. His father died when his youngest son was just 4 years old. During his childhood, a young Jerry Sloan learned the value of hard work as he helped run the family's farm.
"My dad passed away when I was 4 years old, and I was taught a great lesson: Nobody's gonna raise you; you've got to raise yourself," Sloan told the Deseret News. "That's something, right or wrong, good or bad, that's just who I've been. And every person that's gotten to know me real well beyond basketball knows I still have those problems—if you want to call them problems. I call them 'motivating things.' Because when I get put in a corner, I'm not gonna just fold up like an accordion. I never have. I'll try to do it the right way and be fair, but I'm going to put everything I have into it. And if that's not enough, if it doesn't work, fine."
Sloan married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Lou Irvin. Together, Jerry and Bobbye raised three children—Kathy, Holly and Brian. The Sloans were married for 41 years, until Bobbye Sloan's death in 2004.
After transferring from Illinois, Sloan played three seasons at the University of Evansville. Sloan was named a second team All-American while averaging 17.6 points and 14.7 rebounds during his senior season, leading the Purple Aces to a 29-0 record and a second straight Division II National Championship.
The first player selected by Chicago in the 1966 expansion draft, Sloan was known as the "Original Bull." During his career, he was widely recognized as one of the league's toughest backcourt players, earning two All-Star selections and making the NBA All-Defensive First Team four times and All-Defensive Second Team twice.
"I had to play that way because I couldn't play," Sloan said. "I didn't have any skill of being able to shoot the ball or anything glamorous. ... My only skill: I could play hard."
A series of knee injuries forced Sloan to retire after 11 NBA seasons. He averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists over 755 career games with Chicago and Baltimore.
After his playing days were finished, Sloan worked as a scout for the Bulls. In 1977, his alma mater gave him his first head coaching job, but Sloan resigned just days later for personal reasons. Later that year, the entire Evansville Purple Aces basketball team and their new coach were killed in a plane crash.
Sloan was named the head coach of the Chicago Bulls after serving as an assistant for the team from 1977–79. The Bulls went 94-121 under Sloan, reaching the playoffs once. He was fired in 1982.
With the Jazz cruising toward the playoffs, Layden retired in the midst of the season. Sloan was named as his successor.
"I was in shock," Sloan recalled years later, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sloan went 3-6 over his first nine games and had a Christmas Day matchup with the back-to-back champion Lakers circled for a very specific reason.
"I thought that'd be as far as I'd get," Sloan told ESPN.
The Jazz won that game, and Sloan's tenure as Utah's head coach would be secure for more than two decades. Sloan, though, never considered himself one of the all-time greats.
"Usually the ones that have the best players are the best coaches," Sloan told the Deseret News. "You can go out there and say I was a pretty good coach because I had Stockton and Malone. That's just the way it is."
Sloan rallied his team, guiding the Jazz back to the Finals. For the second straight season, though, Michael Jordan and the Bulls won the series 4-2. Sloan would never win a title with the Jazz, but that didn't diminish his team's efforts in his mind.
"A lot of guys will show their rings to you who didn't have anything to do with winning a championship," Sloan told Sports Illustrated in 2002. "There's something to be said for coming back after you lose, for putting yourself on the line, for having the will to try it again and again, for putting every ounce of energy into achieving something after you've fallen short. That's the kind of guys we've always had here."
Bobbye Sloan, his wife of 41 years, died after a battle with cancer.
In 1997, doctors found a pea-sized lump in Bobbye Sloan's breast. The cancer diagnosis shook the Sloans, but it also brought them closer together.
"You realize there are a lot of things more important than basketball," Sloan said. "There wasn't a whole lot of [family] time. Now, nothing takes the place of that—basketball or anything else."
In September, just before the start of the 2006 season, Sloan married Tammy Jessop in a private ceremony in Salt Lake City.
With a 101-79 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 11, Sloan became the fifth coach to reach 1,000 career coaching victories.
"I'm old," Sloan said. "You can call it old school or whatever you want. I just was always taught at a very young age that if you're going to play basketball, you play to win."
A 104-97 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 7 gave Sloan his 1,000th win with the Jazz, and becoming the first coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games with one franchise.
Sloan and his longtime point guard John Stockton were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
"This is a long way from McLeansboro, Illinois, and I am honored to be here," Sloan said during his acceptance speech. "Being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is an achievement unsurpassed in my career. From my beginning in McLeansboro, the game of basketball has introduced me to opportunities and life experiences I never dreamed."
Sloan won his 1,211th game as an NBA head coach, a 112-107 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The victory moved Sloan past Pat Riley for the third-most coaching wins in NBA history.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would pass Sloan on the all-time wins list a few years later, but Popovich has always given credit to Sloan for influencing his own success.
"The way Jerry runs his program has been like a template for me ... just watching what he does, although I've never been able to do it as well as he does it," Popovich said in 2006. "The consistent effort, the consistent execution and the no-nonsense approach to the game—he makes guys earn their paychecks out there, and he's gotten that across for so many years it's impressive. It's a testament to his leadership."
At the start of the 2010 season, Sloan was as honest as ever.
"I've only done day-to-day work as long as I've been here," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "I might wake up tomorrow and say it's time for me to leave. They might have the same idea. I'm not doing cartwheels."
Following a 91-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 9, Sloan and longtime assistant coach Phil Johnson announced their resignations.
The Jazz raised a banner at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Jan. 31 to commemorate Sloan's 1,223 coaching victories.
"This banner will serve as a symbol of the enduring legacy of Jerry Sloan, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history and forever a member of the Jazz family," then-Jazz team president Randy Rigby said.
Sloan was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia. In the spring of 2016, Sloan revealed the diagnosis publicly.
"I'm not looking for publicity," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "But I feel I have to talk straight to people so they know what's going on."
On June 8, 2016, Sloan, was honored at halftime of that night's NBA Finals Game 3 in Cleveland as the co-recipient of the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Basketball Coaches Association (along with former Celtics coach K.C. Jones).
"It is a special treat for me to be attending Game 3 of this exciting NBA Finals and to accept the 2016 NBA Coaches Association Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, along with a fine gentleman and outstanding coach, K.C. Jones. Like Coach Daly, I loved coaching and did my best to approach the job with professionalism, the concept of team effort and always playing hard. I thank my fellow coaches and all of my friends from the bottom of my heart for this special honor," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
"Jerry Sloan is a coaching icon because of his longevity, adaptability and creativity. Jerry's run of 23 years in Utah is the longest in NBA history and a testament to his competitive greatness," said Dallas Mavericks head coach and National Basketball Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle, who presented the honor.
In the early hours of Friday, May, 22, Sloan passed away in his Salt Lake home from complications related to Parkinson's and Lewy body dementia.