Jerry Sloan’s sudden retirement as coach of the Utah Jazz comes as a shock to basketball fans everywhere. He had coached the Jazz for most of 23 seasons and one had become accustomed to seeing his craggy face and still lean figure behind the Jazz bench . The news is particularly upsetting because of the manner of Sloan’s departure . Reportedly , he had a heated argument with star point guard Deron Williams during the Bulls- Jazz game , a disagreement that threatened to become violent. All parties ( Sloan , Williams and Jazz ownership) are denying that the incident had anything to do with Sloan’s sudden resignation but it does not seem that there was any other reason. The Jazz had been playing well and at 36-23 , in sixth place in the tough Western Conference , were almost certain to make the playoffs yet again. Sloan was well liked by his players and much appreciated by Jazz fans and owners for his achievement in making the Jazz a perennial contender.
During his playing career with the Chicago Bulls in the sixties and seventies, Sloan was known as a gritty , hardworking player who by sheer determination made the most of his abilities . Knee injuries cut short his career but in his 11 NBA Seasons , he was twice an All Star , selected four times for the All -NBA Defensive first team and twice to the second team . A tenacious defender , he averaged more than 7 rebounds a game ( very high for a guard) and 2.15 steals per game . I remember watching those Bulls and it was a joy to see how well the players ( Sloan , Norm Van Lier, Clifford Ray, Bobby Dandridge and Chet Walker) meshed as a team . Chicago was undersized at center and though they regularly made the playoffs , they were no match for the powerhouse Celtics of Bill Russell and later the Willis Reed- led Knicks.
Sloan coached the same way that he played and at Utah he took the Jazz to the playoffs fifteen years in a row, winning over 1,000 games in the process . He did this in spite of coaching a small market team that was unable to attract the big name stars . True, he did have Karl ( The Mailman) Malone and John Stockton for almost their entire careers but he never had the dominant center that is the cornerstone of a championship team. Those who criticise him for “never having won a NBA championship ” don’t know what they are talking about. Twice Jerry Sloan took the Jazz to the NBA finals only to see them lose to the Michael Jordan -led Chicago Bulls. The 1988 final was especially heartbreaking for the Jazz and their fans as Michael Jordan hit a miraculous jump shot in the closing seconds of Game 6 to give the Bulls a come-from -behind victory.
Sloan is a Hall of Famer as a coach but he will also be remembered for his strength of character, his steely determination and the force of his personality. The news reports don’t mention the reasons for his spat with Deron Williams . Whatever they were, Williams is going to come out of this with his image tarnished . One article mentions that Williams is a fierce competitor who hates to lose and always blames others when the Jazz lose. Whatever be the truth of that , Williams is going to miss Sloan behind the bench . Ty Corbin was a decent player but it is hard to see him replacing Jerry Sloan .