Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan dies at age 78

Jerry Sloan, tenacious as a player for the Chicago Bulls and coach of the Utah Jazz, died Friday at the age of 78.

The Jazz announced that Sloan died from complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which he had revealed diagnoses for in April 2016.

“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz. He will forever be a part of the Utah Jazz organization and we join his family, friends and fans in mourning his loss,” the team said in a statement. “We are so thankful for what he accomplished here in Utah and the decades of dedication, loyalty and tenacity he brought to our franchise.

“… Like [John] Stockton and [Karl] Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization. He will be greatly missed. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Tammy, the entire Sloan family and all who knew and loved him.”

Sloan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 after a 26-year head-coaching career, 23 of them with the Jazz. His no-nonsense style blended perfectly with Hall of Fame players Malone and Stockton, leading to 15 consecutive playoff appearances. The Jazz’s nearly unstoppable pick-and-roll offense resulted in Western Conference titles in 1997 and 1998, but Utah lost each time in the NBA Finals to the Bulls, the team Sloan played for and then coached.

Known for his defensive intensity as a player, Sloan became a fan favorite as one of the “Original Bulls.” He played one season with the Baltimore Bullets before being selected by the Bulls in the 1966 expansion draft. That first Chicago team made the playoffs despite having a losing record. Led by Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker, Nate Thurmond and Sloan, the Bulls reached the postseason in eight of their first nine seasons, losing in the conference finals twice.

Sloan’s playing career was cut short by injuries after 11 years. He averaged 14 points per game, with a career-best of 18.3 for the Bulls in 1970-71. He was a two-time All-Star and was four times named to the NBA All-Defensive first team. He still ranks in the top five in Bulls franchise history in points, rebounds, games and minutes.

“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Jerry was the face of the Bulls organization from its inception through the mid-1970s, and very appropriately, his uniform No. 4 was the first jersey retired by the team. A great player and a Hall-of-Fame NBA coach, most importantly, Jerry was a great person. Our sympathies go out to the Sloan family and all his many fans.”

After his playing career, Sloan accepted the head-coaching job at his alma mater, Evansville, in March 1977, but backed out after five days, citing personal reasons. In December of that year, the Aces’ team plane crashed after takeoff, killing all aboard.

Sloan returned to basketball as a scout for the Bulls and was named an assistant with the team in 1978. He took over as head coach the next season. After three seasons and one playoff appearance, Sloan was fired.

Jerry Sloan Coaching Career
Regular-Season Games 2,024 4th
Regular Season Wins 1,221 4th
Playoff Games 202 4th
Playoff Wins 98 6th

He then served as a Jazz assistant from 1985 to 1989 before taking over as head coach and going on a legendary run. The Jazz registered 16 straight winning seasons and 15 consecutive playoff appearances. They missed the playoffs three straight years after the Malone-Stockton era before reloading to make the postseason from 2006 to 2010 with All-Stars Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.

Sloan quit abruptly, 54 games into the 2010-11 season, and there were rumblings that a conflict with Williams led to him stepping down. Both the coach and player disputed that.

“I’ve had confrontations with players since I’ve been in the league,” Sloan said at the time. “There’s only so much energy left, and my energy has dropped.”

Sloan finished his coaching career with 1,221 regular-season victories, behind only Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens. He was later passed by the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich; Sloan and Popovich are the only coaches in NBA history to win at least 1,000 games with one team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sloan returned to the Jazz as an adviser and scouting consultant in 2013, and the team honored him with a banner in 2014 that featured the number 1,223, the number of regular-season and playoff wins Sloan had for the Jazz.

He was an all-state player at McLeansboro High School in Illinois before playing for Evansville from 1962 to 1965. He led the Aces to two Division II titles and was the fourth overall pick in the 1965 draft.

Sloan was married to his high school sweetheart, Bobbye, for 41 years, and they had three children. Even though he coached in Salt Lake City, Sloan and his family always maintained a home in McLeansboro. His son Brian won a state championship for the high school in 1984 before going on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Bobbye Sloan died in 2004 at the age of 61 after a well-publicized battle with cancer.

Sloan married Tammy Jessop in 2006 and had a stepson from that marriage.

Parkinson’s, the same disease that has afflicted boxing great Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox, is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects speech and movement and worsens over time. There is no known cure, but symptoms can be controlled by medication. Sloan had said that he was walking 4 miles per day when he announced his diagnosis.

Lewy body dementia mirrors some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s but also causes a progressive decline in mental abilities.

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