Bobbye Sloan has battled cancer in past

Updated: January 8, 2004, 4:16 PM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Jerry Sloan plans to miss a few games as his wife battles cancer for the second time but will continue to coach the team he has led for 16 years.

Bobbye Sloan, the coach's wife of more than 40 years, has a malignant tumor in her pancreas, unrelated to the breast cancer she was treated for several years ago.

"I won't get up here any more and cry, and I'm just going to fight it as much as I can, and he's going to go on with his job ... whether he wants to or not," Bobbye Sloan said Thursday.

Jerry Sloan, who took over the Jazz from Frank Layden in 1988, has the longest tenure of any coach or manager in the four major professional team sports.

He can also certainly be one of the more gruff characters in sports, although it did not show Thursday as he held his wife's hand and they both fought off tears during a short news conference before the Jazz practiced.

Sloan said he also considered leaving the team for his wife, but she quickly vetoed the idea.

"The only reason why I don't is because of her," he said.

Sloan will miss Utah's game at Denver on Friday, the same day the couple is scheduled to discuss treatment options with a cancer specialist. Whether he's back on the Jazz bench for Saturday's home game against Atlanta was uncertain, although Bobbye Sloan said he will be back.

"I told him he can't take the fun of those games away from me," she said. "I've enjoyed this team so much this year. I've said I have to have something good and positive to look forward to. And those games are."

The couple grew up together in southern Illinois and has three children and seven grandchildren.

Bobbye Sloan, 60, was diagnosed with breast cancer after the Jazz's 1997 NBA finals loss to the Chicago Bulls. She fought and won a very public battle with the disease, but had been ill for the past few weeks with flu-like symptoms. Jerry Sloan missed Monday's game against Dallas to be with his wife.

A biopsy confirmed that she had the cancerous tumor in her pancreas.

Team doctor Russell Shields said it was not a recurrence of her first battle with cancer.

Assistant Phil Johnson, who took over for Sloan on Monday and has several times in the past -- although usually when Sloan's fiery temper has gotten him in trouble with the league -- will coach the games Sloan misses.

Sloan told the team at practice Tuesday that his wife was ill, although they didn't know how bad it was.

Center Greg Ostertag, who has been with the Jazz the longest, said he first heard it was cancer Thursday morning.

"It's a sad thing that something like that would happen. I've gotten to know her, and I think she's the median between me and Jerry sometimes," said Ostertag, who's often in Sloan's doghouse. "She's a great lady, and it's sad to hear."

Jazz owner Larry Miller said Sloan has the latitude to do what he needs to take care of his family.

"He needs to attend to Bobbye and the family and himself first," Miller said.

Hired in 1988 by the Jazz, Sloan has the sixth-best winning percentage in NBA history (62.7 percent).

Bobbye Sloan defeated breast cancer in the 1990s and is a beloved figure in the community. The couple didn't hide the battle from the public, which endeared them to fans.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press