For 23 years, Jerry Sloan was the head coach of the Utah Jazz. And while some might consider his inability to bring an NBA title back to the Salt Lake Valley a career-defining failure, guess what? He’s still way tougher than you’ll ever be.
Given the current, non-existent state of the NBA, I’ve had some extra time — too much of it, in fact — to mentally sift through the annals of the Utah Jazz’s rich history. Obviously, when you perform an exercise like this, the names that first come to mind aren’t all that surprising …
- Peter Press Maravich: Any guy that can do this stuff demands eternal respect.
- Karl Anthony Malone: The Mailman has 36,928 career points to his name.
- Jeffrey John Hornacek: He looks like your dad, yet shoots like a gangster.
- John Houston Stockton: Johnny has 3,715 more career assists than Jason Kidd.
- Adrian Delano Dantley: Anthony Davis got his “AD” nickname from this cat.
Listen, I don’t care how intense of a Utah Jazz fan you are …
Don’t even begin to act like you knew the middle names of the above ballers.
And before you go killing me in the comments section, I’m aware that the likes of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell will comfortably find their way onto a list like the above one day, but for now, they’re actively engaged with the franchise …
It’s more than fair; they can wait their turn.
Yet, another name that’s far too often forgotten is that of coach Jerry Sloan.
Sloan stood at the team’s helm for over two decades, amassing an incredible record of 1,221-803 (0.603) during that span. That win total of his is impressive enough to land him the fourth-most all-time wins of any head coach in NBA history — only 114 victories behind Don Nelson (by the way, check this out) who currently sits in first place.
But while the winning won’t soon be forgotten, what truly made Sloan memorable was his tenacity. For a silver fox with a rock-solid side part, on the sideline, let me tell you — his four-letter vocabulary was strong enough to make even Kenny McCormick blush like a schoolgirl.
As a player, Sloan spent 10 of his 11 years as a professional basketball player with the Chicago Bulls. During that time, paired with point guard Norm Van Lier in the Bulls backcourt, Sloan quickly built a reputation for himself as someone who, as Jesse Dorsey of Bleacher Report puts it, “… played shooting guard like a linebacker, refusing to give up an inch on defense.”
Naturally, in spite of the suit coat, button-down Oxford, pleated pants, penny loafers and ‘90s necktie, when he became head coach of the Jazz, he brought that same toughness with him.
Whether you remember it or not, Martin certainly does — it’s now the stuff of nightmares.
In fact, back in April of 2017, in an article he’d penned for The Players’ Tribune, Martin opened up about the experience and how Sloan played an unforgettable (and terrifying) retaliatory role:
“I feel bad about it now, but you might remember that I once hit Karl Malone upside the head. He went down hard. Given his reputation as a tough guy, I thought he was going to get up and we were going to get it on. But he didn’t do nothing.
His coach did, though.
Jerry Sloan ran down the sideline, screaming, ‘What the h*ll? I’m going to kick your a**!’ I was so surprised. I was like, ‘Whoa! Sit your old a** down before I hit you, too!’ We got into it and they had to separate us. That was when I realized that Jerry Sloan was a tough dude.”
But wait — there’s (lots) more …
You recall the Ricky Davis incident, right?
During a regular season game in March of 2003, with a 25-point lead and only six seconds remaining in regulation, Davis, then a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, found himself with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds — just a single board shy of the ever-elusive triple-double.
Fearing that he’d let the opportunity for his career’s first-ever triple-double pass him by, in the closing seconds of the game, Davis intentionally missed a layup on his own basket (yes, you read that correctly) to try and nab one more rebound.
Upon doing so, he was immediately met with a forceful, two-handed shove from Jazz guard DeShawn Stevenson, knocking him squarely on his derrière.
After the game, never one for a lack of impassioned words in a heated moment, Sloan made sure to not only let Davis know how he felt about his antics, but what he would’ve done as a player:
“DeShawn fouled him. I would’ve fouled him, too. I would’ve knocked him on his a**. You try to embarrass a team after a 20-point lead, you’re g*d d*mn right, I’d knock him down … I was glad DeShawn tried to knock him down. They can put me in jail or whatever they want for saying that, but that’s the way it is.”
These days, though the fiery language and courtside temper tantrums are undoubtedly alive as ever within him, the 77-year-old’s lifestyle has slowed significantly.
In 2016, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, as well as with Lewy body dementia. Physically and mentally, Sloan’s extremely frail, requiring 24-hour care to maintain some semblance of normalcy in his life.
But he won’t give up — you already knew that, though.
“Tonight is what I live for — guys struggling, coming back, competing. Those are the things that are most important. That’s the best thing about being a coach. Seeing how guys react in a tough situation. Watching them fight back.”
Telling, isn’t it?
Juxtapose Sloan’s personality with the kid-toting, minivan-rolling, G-rated culture that exists here in Utah and you’ve got yourself a storyline that’s ripe enough for Tinseltown.
No, he never was the perfect fit, but unlike many that came before (and after) him, he put aside the small-market quirks of the Beehive State to transform the Utah Jazz into a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the NBA.
It took one tough cookie to make that happen; fortunately, Sloan was just the man for the job.