Deseret News - In our opinion: Jerry Sloan’s legacy is as hard to remove as one of Utah’s...

Discussion in 'Jazz Newz' started by the Deseret News, May 23, 2020 at 6:02 AM.

  1. [​IMG] Former Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan talks to the media about his new role with the organization at a press conference at Zions Bank Basketball Center Thursday, June 20, 2013, in Salt Lake City. | Tom Smart, Deseret News

    You can learn all you need to know about Jerry Sloan by looking at his jersey hanging in the rafters of Vivint Smart Home Arena.

    The players up there are represented by the number they wore on the court; the number that came to identify them and their personal achievements. Sloan’s jersey bears the number 1,223 — representing the total games his teams won with him as head coach.

    As anyone who lived in Utah during the 23 years he coached the Jazz ought to know, Sloan never gave a hoot and holler about who scored the most points or made the flashiest dunks. Victory was a team effort. Victory took hard work and sacrifice by everyone in a uniform, and if a person was lucky enough to wear one of those uniforms, Sloan expected that person to play with every ounce of energy for the good of the team in every game.

    Sloan’s death Friday at 78 reverberated through the Wasatch Mountain range like the end of an era. But that’s not right. Sloan can’t be confined to an era. His legacy would be as hard to move from this state as one of those mountains.


    Utah has often seemed an unlikely place for an NBA team, given the sport’s glitzy, big city image. This is a place of old-fashioned values, where honesty is prized and where the land and the people who benefit from it are never far separated. It’s a place where one high school proudly boasts the mascot of a beetdigger, and another, now former, high school simply called its teams the farmers.

    The state and its basketball franchise found their voice in Sloan, a gritty rural farm boy who not only knew how to work, but who loved doing it; who accepted no excuses and brokered no pretenses; who showed up to work every day no matter how he felt and insisted his players do the same; and who respected the hard-earned money it took for fans to afford a ticket to the game and felt an obligation to provide a product worthy of that sacrifice.

    Those are qualities a lot of Utahns take to heart. Sloan never apologized for them, and because of the respect he earned as his teams kept winning, many Utahns felt a pride and sense of belonging. Sloan’s imprint gave the team with an improbable name (speaking of mascots) a clean separation from its New Orleans roots and a solid, unique footing among the league’s flashiest teams.

    And as with a lot of Utahns, family mattered greatly to Sloan, whether it was the love and respect he felt for his mother, who raised him and nine other children after her husband died, or for his first wife, Bobbye, his high school sweetheart who died in 2004, his second wife, Tammy Jessop, his children and grandchildren.

    The people closest to him described him as softhearted, kind and sentimental. Players respected him for his consistency, for the value of his word, and for the way he genuinely cared about them.

    Sloan wasn’t particularly polished. He had no patience for the politics of sport. In an age where everyone seems to value thinking outside the box, he was a classic inside-the-box sort of guy. What you saw was what you got. In the glory years, everyone knew the Jazz relied on John Stockton throwing the ball under the basket to Karl Malone. It was predictable, but few teams could stop it.

    Despite all he accomplished, Sloan never won a championship. Somehow, that doesn’t seem at all important now. What he left behind were lessons that can’t be confined to a basketball court. They involve personal integrity, professional deportment, discipline and loyalty.

    Those are hard to measure with a number, but 1,223 will do.

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