Most of us remember the 1990s Utah Jazz, and their patented Stockton-to-Malone pick & roll play. They did it on numerous occasions in each game. All their opponents could do was watch basketball poetry in motion. Basketball hungry kids across the world then copied it and used it as a part of their basketball expression. Nobody did it better than Stockton & Malone!
It was Jerry Sloan, their head coach, who instructed them to execute that play to perfection.
“He was stubborn; you have to be as a coach. But he had a system, and the system was effective. It’s not easy to have a team in Utah. It’s not the biggest draw in the country as far as free agents to go there. And they were able to have a really great home record, played the kind of basketball that was admirable. So we all had admiration for him as coaches around the league. So as a colleague, we’ll miss him.”Phil Jackson, NY Times
Almost unbelievably, Sloan tirelessly stood by the NBA sidelines from 1988 until 2011, while setting the American major league sports record for the longest tenure with one franchise!
A standout player drafted fourth overall by the Baltimore Bullets in 1965, spent most of his playing days with the Chicago Bulls. Along the way, the tireless performer and tenacious defender earned the nickname ‘The Original Bull’ being voted to the NBA’s All-Defensive team six times, while also earning a pair of the NBA All-Star berths.
His own legacy in Bulls history is best described by the fact that he led the team to it first and only Division title before the Jordan-era, and the first postseason appearance already in their first year of existence. For his great accomplishments with the team, his #4 jersey was the first jersey ever to be retired by the Chicago Bulls, back in 1978.
“Size doesn’t make any difference; heart is what makes a difference.”Jerry Sloan, ESPN
After he finished his career as a player, Sloan took over as a pre-Jordan Chicago Bulls coach and led the team from 1979 until 1982. After that, Sloan became a scout and eventually an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz.
In 1988, after his mentor, 1983-84 NBA Coach of the Year Frank Layden took over as the Jazz President, Sloan took over the head coaching duties. The 1988-89 team featured three NBA All-Stars in point guard John Stockton, power forward Karl Malone and center Mark Eaton.
The team from the Salt Lake City soon took off to the very top of the Western Conference standings and became a legit title contender over the 1990s. Along the way, Sloan coached the Jazz to 10 seasons with more than 50 wins and won six division championships.
After John Stockton hit the game-winning three-pointer and brought the Jazz the decisive win in the thrilling game 6 vs. the Houston Rockets of the 1997 Western Conference finals Sloan stated:
“These guys have been criticized the last few years for not getting to where we’re going, but I’ve always said that the most important thing in sports is to keep trying. Let this be an example of what it means to say it’s never over.”Jerry Sloan, NBA.com
The highlights of Sloan’s coaching career are definitely two trips to the NBA finals vs. the Chicago Bulls in 1997 and 1998, depicted in the recent documentary series ‘The Last Dance.’
After the Stockton & Malone era, Sloan successfully coached the new millennium Jazz squad, which featured All-Stars Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmed Okur, and Deron Williams. However, on February 10th, 2011, Sloan resigned after a conflict with Deron Williams.
Over the 23-year long coaching career Sloan compiled a 1,127-682 regular-season record and also led the team to 96 postseason wins, thus compiling a total of 1,221 career wins placing him as fourth in NBA history, trailing only Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, and Gregg Popovich, who credits him as a mentor for his overall coaching success in the NBA.
Surprisingly, bearing in mind all that success, he was never voted as the NBA Coach of the Year. Sloan was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame back in 2009, in the same class as John Stockton. He was introduced by Charles Barkley.
R.I.P. Coach Sloan.
Basketball Network contributor Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj, the 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist, is the proud co-author of the Amazon.com TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon.’