It was a sad day for the basketball community around the world Friday as one of the best minds sadly passed away. Jerry Sloan, 78, lost a long battle with dementia and is now no longer with us. He was a basketball lifer, with 26 years as a head coach in the game and 11 as a player.
Playing 10 years with the Chicago Bulls from 1966-1976, Sloan was a tremendous ballplayer. He scored in double figures every season, made two All-Star Games, and was voted All-Defense on six occasions. He was a two-way standout and perhaps the leader of those Bulls teams.
He helped the Bulls to the postseason in eight of those 10 years, making a serious run at the title in 1974. For all of his contributions as a player, he had his No. 4 jersey retired by the franchise, the first in team history. It was 10 fantastic years for Sloan in Chicago after starting with a season in Baltimore with the Bullets.
Two years after his retirement as a player, he became an assistant with the Bulls. Two years following that hiring, he became the head coach. He would last at the helm for just three years. After four years away from coaching, in 1985, he took a job as an assistant with the Jazz.
Frank Layden was Utah’s head coach at the time, and he had done some great work, regularly leading the Jazz to the playoffs. But during the 1988-89 season, the team decided to make a change after 17 games. Sloan was in charge.
He helped them to a 40-25 record in that first season before they were swept in the first round of the playoffs. Most impressive about Sloan’s 23-year run as coach of the Jazz was not just the 19 playoff appearances. It was that his teams posted a losing record just once, in the 2004-05 season.
That one losing year would lead them to draft franchise point guard Deron Williams. The only thing Sloan didn’t do in Utah was win a ring. And it is a shame. Michael Jordan’s Bulls defeated his Jazz squads in back-to-back years in 1997 and 1998.
In both of those campaigns, the series went to six games. But the clutch performances of Steve Kerr and Jordan would be too much to overcome for them. Those teams were built well on both ends of the floor, with perhaps the greatest point guard-power forward duo of all-time leading the way in John Stockton and Karl Malone.
If Utah had been able to make it to the Finals in one of the two years Jordan was gone/not 100%, it might have been able to bring one home. It just didn’t work out like that. It doesn’t take anything away from Sloan’s legacy. But if only he could have won a ring.
We will remember Sloan for many years to come. He was a fantastic basketball mind, both as a player and coach, with a winning percentage as a coach of .603.
And if you combine his playing and coaching careers, he made the playoffs in 33 of 40 years. Pretty impressive.
Jerry Sloan. Gone, but not forgotten. RIP, Coach. Legend.
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