Remembering Jerry Sloan: The King of Utah Who Wanted All The Smoke

When a beloved King dies, tears are the immediate reaction. In Utah on Friday, thousands of tears were shed with the news that their “King” had died. Jerry Sloan, NBA Hall of Famer, former Head Coach of the Utah Jazz, and Chicago Bulls player, died at his home in Salt Lake City at the age of 78.

The Utah Jazz released a statement that the cause of death was Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease, which Sloan battled with since 2015.

Coming into the NBA, Sloan was far from the prototypical NBA Hall of Famer. He really couldn’t score the ball, but was a tenacious defender which earned him the title as the toughest SOB in the league. It was in fact Sloan’s toughness and smarts that paved the route for him to be a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

When you combine his playing career and coaching career, Sloan spent 46 of his 78 year life in the NBA.

Sloan who coached 30 years in the NBA, 23 of which were with the Utah Jazz, is the 4th winningest coach in league history, and No. 2, behind Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, for longest tenure with one team. Sloan’s record as a coach is 1,221-803.

Sloan had only one losing team in his 23 seasons as the Jazz coach and posted an overall regular-season record of 1,127-682 with Utah. He resigned in February 2011, but returned to the team as an advisor in 2013. While John Stockton and Karl Malone are the superstars of Utah basketball, Sloan holds the title of “King of Utah.”

One thing that set Sloan apart from most coaches was his ability to sniff out the imposters. One prerequisite to making Sloan’s teams is being yourself. If you are a leader, then lead. A quiet soul, then be quiet. But if you are a kitten and tried to be a lion, Sloan was going to call your bluff and make you play your cards. And Sloan was never bluffing, his toughness he had as a 25 year old had not diminished as he coached into his late 60’s. He really wanted the smoke.

Name the tough guys, or want to be tough guys from the past few decades. Dennis Rodman? Jerry Sloan challenged him to a fight.

Jerry Stackhouse? Sloan got in his face.

Kenyon Martin? Yeah he wanted the smoke with him too, despite being in his 60’s and dressed in a suit and tie.

If there is one common theme throughout Sloan’s life, it would be: he is a fighter.

So rather than just focus on his achievements, let’s remember Sloan for what he was, a fighter.

Even when diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, knowing he could not win the fight, Sloan fought. But this wasn’t anything new. Sloan had been fighting all his life, it made him who he was. From fighting the rural life in 1950’s Illinois, to in the locker room with his Chicago Bulls teammates, to Dennis Rodman in Detroit, and into the hearts of thousands across the NBA landscape, Sloan always fought.

Beyond the countless NBA players he wanted to fight, Sloan would get just as heated with the officials. The NBA career leader in technical fouls earned every one, always displaying a show for the Jazz fans to cheer about. Arms flailing, verbally abusing referees, and the trademark tie flapping round, Sloan was going to get his money’s worth for each technical foul. Seemingly every technical foul came with an even louder ovation from the crowd.

While often described as hot headed, intense but loyal, here is how Sloan’s players thought of him.

“The game is extremely important to him, how it looks, how it’s played. I think he gets technicals because he’s standing up for the game more than anything else. I think it’s his non-self-promoting demeanor. He’s not out there telling you what a great coach he is.”- John Stockton.

When asked about what gets Sloan’s blood boiling, Stockton quickly responded with “Not being prepared, not respecting your teammates, separating yourself from the team. If you untuck your shirt when everyone else’s is tucked in, you going right when everybody else is going left.”

Karl Malone was the other piece of the dynamic pick and roll duo under Sloan for decades. Here is what Malone said about Sloan years back.

“He wants you to come, work hard, do what he tells you to do. I won’t play for another coach. Me and him clash every now and then, but it’s one of those things in the end where I want what he wants. — to win. And he realizes that.”- Karl Malone.

So to perfectly sum up the late great Jerry Sloan, I will steal the words of Karl Malone:

“There will never be another like him.”

In case you missed it:

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The Life and Legacy of the Late Great NBA Commissioner David Stern

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