Within the past couple days, it has been revealed that legendary former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan’s condition is worsening.
Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson gave us the bad news in his column Wednesday. Sloan, who has suffered from dementia and Parkinson’s disease for the past several years, now requires around-the-clock care as his mental and physical condition continues to deteriorate. Someone close to Sloan told Monson that Sloan is dying.
It is truly sad to hear.
Anyone who grew up in Utah as a sports fan knows just how much Jerry Sloan means to this state, and how much it means to him. Even if you weren’t a Jazz fan during Sloan’s 23-year run as the team’s head coach — and I wasn’t, having moved to Utah from Colorado at age 7 — you couldn’t help but respect and admire what he was able to accomplish.
There aren’t many coaches in any sport who are as synonymous with one franchise as Sloan is with the Jazz to this day. Others who come to mind include Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda or former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.
The thing with Sloan’s teams is that you always knew exactly what was coming — pick-and-roll, Stockton to Malone. Hard-nosed, physical defense. It was the same recipe, game after game, year after year. And, yet, the Jazz executed it to such perfection, somehow nobody could figure out how to stop it.
From the time he took over 17 games into the 1988-89 season to when he stepped down with 28 games left in the 2010-11 campaign, the Jazz won 1,127 regular-season games and lost 682. That’s a winning percentage of .623, or an average of 51 wins a season. Imagine if the Jazz hadn’t been forced to deal with Magic Johnson’s Lakers, Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets, Charles Barkley’s Suns, Tim Duncan’s Spurs or Gary Payton’s SuperSonics for all of those years in the Western Conference, or Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the two years they made it through that Western gauntlet. An NBA title the only thing missing from Sloan’s resume, but thanks mainly to Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, he’s not the only one.
But there’s more to Sloan’s legacy than just the wins and losses; more than the banner in the rafters of Vivint Smart Home Arena that carries his name and the number 1,223 that represents the number of regular-season and postseason wins he earned as Jazz head coach. Even though he’s from Illinois originally, he feels like he’s one of us. In a largely rural state, there was something endearing about seeing Sloan doing interviews wearing a John Deere hat.
Sloan’s legacy will live on in this state forever. For many of us, as great a coach as Quin Snyder is, it feels like he’s occupying Sloan’s seat.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He remembers being disappointed as a 10-year-old Denver Nuggets fan when Sloan, Stockton and Malone teamed up to knock his team out of the playoffs in 1994. E-mail him at email@example.com.