Jerry Sloan coached the Jazz for 23 years. There were many fond memories that Utah fans had of him but there is a lot that they might not know as well. During this Memorial Day weekend it’s time to take a look back at one of the most iconic people in basketball history.
Growing up: Jerry Sloan was born in Illinois and endured hardship at a young age. His father passed away when he was only 4. He learned how to work hard on the farm and literally walked 2 miles to school. He was a blue collar kind of guy. He woke up and milked the cows and then made it to basketball practice afterwards. This hard work ethic would help later in life.
Life as a local college Star: Jerry Sloan was perhaps the best player In Evansville Aces history. He played there two years and averaged 15.7 points and 13.1 boards in his two years there. He was a tenacious defender and tough as nails. He embodied the grit of the Midwest. The Illinois native wasn’t done putting the state in the spotlight though.
The Original Bull: Jerry Sloan was drafted 19th overall by the Baltimore Bullets in 1964 but would soon return to the Windy City in the 1966 expansion draft when he would play for the Chicago Bulls. He was so great that he was regarded as the best player in Bulls history before a guy named Michael Jordan came along. A series of knee injuries cut his career short but he did lead the Bulls to their first division title in only his first season. That doesn’t happen often for expansion teams. He had a respectable 11 year career with 10 of them being in Chicago. Shortly after his career was over he wasn’t able to win as a coach in Chicago so he seized the opportunity with another team across the country.
Hall of Fame Coach: After starting out as an assistant for the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan took the coaching job when Frank Layden resigned. For 23 years Jerry would take the Jazz as high as he could. They would make it to the Western Conference Finals six times in his career and twice to the NBA Finals. He couldn’t quite get the Jazz over the hump but he sure threw the kitchen sink at the New Bull who wore #23: Michael Jordan. A couple of shot clock violations and a push off thwarted two attempts from the Jazz to push the series to a Game 7 with Jerry’s former team. Only Jerry was unaware of MJ’s Flu Game because in Jerry’s words MJ was a “good ball player”.
Retirement: Jerry abruptly retired in the middle of the 2010-2011 season following a loss to none other than the rising Chicago Bulls. This time Derrick Rose was the star of the Bulls. The “Original Bull” wasn’t able to receive the respect he deserved from his stars. Deron Williams scratched the plays Jerry gave him and it let to a fight after the game that preceded Jerry’s resignation. Deron was traded and later met with Jerry to make restitution. Deron said on Instagram after Jerry’s passing that he’s glad he made peace before it was too late or it would have haunted him the rest of his life.
We remember Jerry as a tough guy but there are many entertaining stories of him that have been told by his co-workers and Jazz fans who have seen him. One fan recalls the time Ricky Davis missed a shot on purpose so he could get the rebound to secure the triple double. Jerry lost it.
Another fan recalls the time Jerry got mad at Kyrylo Fesenko for having a nonchalant attitude at the Rocky Mountain Revue. He had bleached his hair blonde and was laughing on the court in the middle of the game. At halftime Jerry runs in front of them to chew out Fesenko.
One time Jerry Sloan said of young player CJ Miles “We can’t put a diaper on him one night and a jockstrap the next.”
Of his Hall of Fame point guard Sloan said, “In 19 years Stockton never once lost a suicide drill in practice. Well, there was one day. He was sick but he still ran it.”
Another Hall of Fame player, Karl Malone, said of Jerry:
“For me to be here tonight, everything had to be perfect. I had to get drafted by Utah, had to play with a point guard like John Stockton, and had to be coached by Jerry Sloan and Frank Layden.”
Jerry endured the loss of his first wife and high school sweetheart Bobbye to pancreatic cancer in 2004. It broke his heart. He remarried to a woman named Tammy Jessop in 2006. After battling dementia he passed away on Memorial Day Weekend of 2020.
Rest easy Jerry. We are all Jerry Sloan fans.. Stockton and Malone have statues as Hall of Fame Players. Jerry was a Hall of Fame Coach. It’s time to build the statue of Jerry Sloan. It’s only fitting that he wear a John Deere hat. He won 1223 games which is the most for one franchise in NBA history. Surprisingly he never won Coach of the Year but he will always be a Jazz legend.