Utah Jazz Legend Jerry Sloan Passes Away At Age 78
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah Jazz Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Sloan has passed away at the age of 78 early Friday morning, according to the Jazz.
Sloan had been dealing with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia since April 2016.
He was the longest-tenured head coach in American major league sports with the same franchise when he resigned as the head coach of the Jazz on February 10, 2011.
Toughness, grit, competitive spirit, hard work, accountability, and humility were values Jerry Sloan learned growing up in McLeansboro, Illinois. Born on March 28, 1942, Jerry was the youngest of 10 children.
He learned how hard life could be at a young age. His father died when he was just 4 years old. His family lived in poverty. He walked miles on dusty dirt roads to school and back. He worked on oil rigs.
Jerry found basketball, which he described as a sport that saved him. He starred at McLeansboro High School, and then at the University of Evansville, where he led the Purple Aces to back-to-back Division 2 National Championships.
NBA Career: The Original Bull
He was drafted 4th overall in the 1965 NBA draft by the Baltimore Bullets. One year later he was traded to the expansion Chicago Bulls.
The “Original Bull,” as he was called, was known for his toughness on defense. He led the Bulls to the playoffs in their first season. He averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds in 11 NBA seasons. He was a two-time all-star and named to the All-Defense First Team four times.
His number 4 jersey was the first retired by the franchise.
He won a lot of games as a player with the Bulls, but he couldn’t duplicate that success as the team’s head coach. He was fired in the middle of his third season. His failure with the Bulls would lead to a new opportunity in Utah.
Coaching In Utah
He got a call from Frank Layden to work as an assistant coach and did that from 1984 to 1988.
On December 12, 1988, Frank Layden abruptly resigned, and Jerry Sloan became the head coach of the Utah Jazz. It was the beginning of a Hall of Fame career.
The same qualities that defined him as a player were the same when he coached. He was a fiery competitor.
There were ups and downs – including early playoff exits – but the team, led by future Hall of Famers, John Stockton and Karl Malone, took on the personality of their coach.
The Jazz won. A lot.
After years of playoff disappointment, John Stockton sent the Jazz to the NBA Finals for the first time in 1997. Jerry’s reaction will never be forgotten.
The Jazz came close, but Michael Jordan stood in the way of that elusive title two years in a row.
As the “Stockton to Malone” era came to a close, Jerry would keep coaching and keep fighting.
He was dealing with losing on the court and adversity off the court.
Bobbye and Jerry were high school sweethearts. They had 3 children. His wife of 41 years battled breast cancer for 6 years. Then, after battling pancreatic cancer, she died in 2004.
It was a dark time for Jerry, but he found happiness again. He met Tammy Jessop, and they were married in 2006.
Next Generation Jazz
As he found happiness again off the court, the Jazz became winners again on the court.
The new generation Jazz featured Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap. They averaged 52 wins over four seasons, and won four playoff series in four years, and reached the western conference finals for the 6th time in franchise history.
Jerry received basketball’s highest honor in 2009, as he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
It seemed like Jerry would coach the Jazz forever, but his 23 years as the head coach in Utah came to an abrupt end.
On February 10, 2011, after a game against the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Sloan and his longtime assistant, Phil Johnson, resigned in the middle of the 2010-11 season.
Sloan continued to work for the franchise as an adviser.
On January 31, 2014, the franchise honored Jerry Sloan by raising a banner, which reads, 1223 – the number of games he won as head coach of the Utah Jazz.
Jerry Sloan was a fighter, but there was one fight he could not win.
The diseases took his life but they cannot take his legacy. Legends never die. The impact he had will live on.