Sloan's honesty, grit will be missed
Jerry Sloan entered the NBA in 1965 as a quiet, lanky 2-guard from Evansville College. But his soft-spoken demeanor masked a fierce competitiveness. He was soon known throughout the league as a relentless defender, a tenacious rebounder and a player who, despite a lack of exceptional offensive skill, still averaged 14 points per game over his 11-year playing career. He was an in-the-trenches player -- always the aggressor, never backing down from anyone, forever involved in loose-ball scrambles and someone with a knack for coming up with game-saving possessions or last-second putbacks.
His coach in Chicago, Dick Motta, loved him. Sloan became the linchpin of a young Bulls team that included Chet Walker, Bob Love, Tom Boerwinkle and Norm Van Lier, a team that won 50 or more games in four straight seasons. Motta's teams used most of the shot clock on each possession, got and made high-percentage shots and were in the top three in the league in fewest points allowed. I coached at Philadelphia and Buffalo at the time, and the Bulls were tough to beat.
Sloan was in the middle of everything they did, and the Bulls adopted his no-holds-barred demeanor. Motta once told me that Sloan and Van Lier got into it at practice sometimes in battles that carried off the floor and out into the corridors of the building.
The Jazz teams that Sloan coached played the same way. They were always tough, resourceful and fundamentally sound. His best teams were those with Karl Malone and John Stockton, who once went to management after a difficult finish to the season to say that if Sloan was not going to be their coach, they would leave, too.
But under his gruff exterior, Sloan is a gentle man with a keen sense of humor. He maintains a farm in Illinois where he spends his time after the NBA season is over. He has a volume collection of John Deere tractors and is an avid antiques collector.
I looked forward to broadcasting Jazz games mostly because it gave me a chance to interview Sloan. You always got an honest appraisal of his team and an interesting perspective of his opponent. But most of all, Sloan had a barn full of wry, pithy expressions that spilled out easily as he spoke. Talking about another team's defense: "They were all over us -- busy as a stump full of ants." About a physical player: "He's got a barbed wire tail, and he don't care where he drags it" or "He's as tough as tree bark." About his newly adopted son: "He's no bigger than a bar of soap." Describing a short person: "Do his legs go all the way to the floor?" And about a young, developing team: "Them boys are coming to their milk."
Sloan had great success, too. With 23 seasons under his belt in Utah, he has coached one team longer than any other NBA coach, is the only NBA coach to win 1,000 games with the same team and is third all-time (behind Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens) in career wins among NBA coaches, with 1,221. For all his success, Sloan, who entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, has never won an NBA championship nor been named coach of the year.
The basketball world will miss Sloan, an unpretentious, honest man who had an enormous impact on the game and on every player he coached. But Sloan won't miss it. He'll be back on his Illinois farm with his family, tinkering with his John Deeres and looking around for interesting antiques.
Jerry Sloan will be at peace with the world.
Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay is an analyst for ESPN Radio and a contributor to ESPN.com.
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