Jerry Sloan, the coach who took the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 on his way to a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame, died Friday. He was 78.
The Jazz said he died from complications related to Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Sloan spent 23 seasons coaching the Jazz. The team — with John Stockton and Karl Malone leading the way in many of those seasons — finished below .500 in only one of those years. Sloan won 1,221 games in his career, the fourth-highest total in NBA history.
In a statement released by the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver said: “Jerry Sloan was among the NBA’s most respected and admired legends. After an All-Star playing career in which his relentless style shaped the Chicago Bulls in their early years, he became one of the all-time greatest head coaches during 23 seasons with the Utah Jazz – the second-longest tenure in league history.
“He was the first coach to win 1,000 games with the same organization, which came to embody the qualities that made Jerry a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer: persistence, discipline, drive and selflessness. His more than 40 years in the NBA also paralleled a period of tremendous growth in the league, a time when we benefited greatly from his humility, kindness, dignity and class. Our thoughts are with Jerry’s wife, Tammy, and their family, as well as his former players, colleagues and the Bulls and Jazz organizations.”
The Jazz, in their statement, said Sloan “epitomized the organization” and offered their condolences to he and his family.
“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz,” the team said in a statement. “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.”
Current Jazz coach Quin Snyder said he learned quickly about how important Sloan has been to the organization.
“Before coming to Utah, I was certainly aware of Coach Sloan and what he meant to the NBA and to the coaching world. But, upon living in Utah, I became acutely aware of just how much he truly meant to the state,” Snyder said in a statement. “The clear identity that he established for Jazz basketball — unselfishness, toughness and the essential importance of team — has always left a palpable responsibility to strive for in carrying forward. He will be missed and mourned by the Jazz family, the NBA and beyond.”
Utah went to The Finals twice under Sloan, both times falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Sloan was a former player of the Bulls from 1966-76 and his jersey hangs in the rafters of the United Center.
“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago,” Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in statement after Sloan’s passing. “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. A great player and a Hall-of-Fame NBA coach, most importantly, Jerry was a great person. Our sympathies go out to the Sloan family and all his many fans.”
Sloan entered the Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I’m not into numbers and stuff like that,” Sloan said when he passed Pat Riley for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time win list in 2010; Gregg Popovich has since surpassed him for that spot. “I never have been. I’ve got a great organization to work for that’s given me an opportunity to stay there for a long time. I’m very thankful for that and the coaches that I have with me. It’s not about me.”
Popovich offered his condolences on Friday.
“It’s a sad day for all of us who knew Jerry Sloan,” the Spurs coach said. “Not only on the basketball court but, more importantly, as a human being. He was genuine and true. And that is rare. He was a mentor for me from afar until I got to know him. A man who suffered no fools, he possessed a humor, often disguised, and had a heart as big as the prairie.”
He spent 34 years in the employ of the Jazz organization, either as head coach, assistant, scout or senior basketball adviser. Sloan started as a scout, was promoted as an assistant under Frank Layden in 1984 and became the sixth coach in franchise history on Dec. 9, 1988, after Layden resigned.
Sloan’s longevity with the Jazz was remarkable. During his time in Utah, there were 245 coaching changes around the league and five teams — Charlotte, Memphis, Toronto, Orlando and Minnesota — did not even exist when he took the helm with the Jazz.
”Like Stockton and Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization,” the Jazz’s team statement added. ”He will be greatly missed.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.