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“We all knew who was running the show. We respected him because he was the same every day. He was tough but he was fair,” said Karl Malone, who was a mainstay of Jazz teams that reached the playoffs 16 consecutive seasons.
The Jazz was set to honor the Hall of Fame coach Friday night at halftime of their game against the Golden State Warriors by raising a banner featuring the number “1223,” which represents Sloan wins, regular season (1127) and playoff (96), in his 23 years with the Jazz from 1988-2011.
“I’ve been blessed. I really felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world to be able to coach two guys (Stockton and Malone) that were willing to pay the price and played hard every day,” said Sloan, who is currently a senior basketball adviser in his 30th season with the Jazz organization.
Asked if he had any regrets at a press conference Friday, Sloan joked, “The only thing I can think of is maybe calling a different play against Chicago coming down the stretch.”
Though he wasn’t regarded as a tactical guru, Sloan had an uncanny feel for the game and he demanded respect. He didn’t hesitate to discipline a player - even his stars - or demonstrate his displeasure with a string of choice curse words, but he never put the blame of a loss on anyone but himself.
“I never wanted to disappoint you because you made it possible for me to become the player and person I did. I came here as a young boy and I grew into a man here,” Karl Malone said to his old coach Friday, and later added, “I love you.”
Tears filled Sloan’s eyes as he talked about his career, belying his fiery presence on the sidelines. He was obviously more than a coach to many of the 133 players he coached in Utah.
“I’ve had a very interesting relationship with Jerry. It’s been like a father-son relationship, like a big brother and a friend, too,” Stockton said. “Not many people get to go through life and have that and I have it right here in one man.”
Raised on a farm in rural Illinois, Sloan often had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and do his farm chores before walking miles to basketball practice at school. He never forgot where he came from and didn’t mind being a country bumpkin in the hip-hop NBA. Asked what he hoped basketball might do for him, he’s always said, “I just hoped it’d get me a ride home from school.”
He became the first player signed to the expansion Chicago Bulls franchise in 1966. Sloan was known as the “Original Bull” and had his No. 4 jersey retired in Chicago after 10 years there. The Bulls gave him his first head coaching job (1979-82) but Sloan said he never quite got over the feeling of getting fired.
He didn’t have to worry about that in Utah. His 1,127 wins with one NBA franchise is a record. He had the unflinching support of ownership and never had to coddle players. Five of his former players already have banners hanging in the arena rafters: Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Hornacek, Malone and Stockton.
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