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At 78, Jerry Sloan Still Sets The Tone For The Utah Jazz Franchise

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan turns 78 today. The Hall of Famer, known for his hard-nosed style of basketball, both as a player with the Chicago Bulls and as the long time head coach of the Jazz, doesn’t have the same physical presence with the organization that he once did. Sloan’s battle with Lewy body dementia has limited the amount of time the coach spends around the team.

But make no mistake, Sloan’s presence is felt within the walls of Vivint Smart Home Arena as much today as it was during his nearly three-decade tenure with the Jazz.

Sure, the game has changed. Sloan’s preference of putting opposing players on the foul line in order to earn their points the hard way doesn’t ring true in a league dominated by analytics. Neither does an offensive built around Karl Malone’s face-up mid-range jump shot.

Truthfully, the talent that he inherited in Malone and pick and roll partner John Stockton is only part of the reason the Jazz won 1,223 games with Sloan as head coach. It was Sloan’s belief in hard work that made his team’s successful.

An Illinois native, Sloan grew up on a farm as the youngest of 10 children, raised by a single mother. The McLeansboro product never could hide his farm boy roots, even beneath a wardrobe of suits tailored for his 6’5 inch frame.

Sloan’s hands gave his history away, as did his asymmetric nose. But the coach’s physical features weren’t a badge that had to be shown for basketball fans to understand his impact, Sloan’s teams wore the coach’s heart on their sleeves.

Just as Sloan’s suits couldn’t erase his hard-earned history, his retirement from coaching did little to expunge the spirit that he’s cemented into the organization.

When looking for players to bring into the Jazz organization,  Vice President of Basketball Operation Dennis Lindsey likes to talk about Jazz DNA, some undefined, non-specific set of traits that exist in a certain few basketball players that makes them particularly well suited to play basketball for the Jazz organization.

Lindsey could just as easily call it Sloan DNA.

Sloan was tough but approachable. He was stubborn but amenable. He played to win but was better sculpted by his losses, and despite being the NBA’s all-time leader in technical fouls, you can’t find anyone to say a negative thing about him.

It’s the gray area between those idiosyncrasies that made Jerry Sloan great. It’s the same space that allows Joe Ingles, an Australian father of twins who made his NBA debut at 27 years old to succeed alongside Donovan Mitchell, a blue-chip prep athlete turned leaguewide superstar.

It’s the same DNA that allows one of the league’s smallest markets to consistently host one of its most competitive franchises.

There are no true holdovers from Sloan’s tenure in Utah, no members of his coaching tree still hovering on the sidelines in any official capacity. But it wasn’t Sloan’s physical presence that changed the Jazz organization for the better, it was his spirit.

That won’t ever leave.

Happy Birthday, Coach.

 

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