Jerry Sloan, the tough-as-nails defensive-minded wing player of the Chicago Bulls in the 1960s and ’70s who went on to coach the Utah Jazz for 23 seasons and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, died at 78.
Sloan had been battling Parkinson’s disease for years and had reportedly worsened in recent weeks.
“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz,” the team said in a statement. “He will forever be a part of the Utah Jazz organization and we join his family, friends and fans in mourning his loss. 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 Stockton and 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.”
Rest easy, Coach ❤️
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) May 22, 2020
Sloan was the youngest of 10 children, born in McLeansboro, Illinois. He was a driven child who literally walked to school and home after basketball practice, but his play got him into Evansville College, where he starred. He was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets and played one season there before being picked up by the Chicago Bulls in an expansion draft.
Sloan played a decade for the Bulls and was a six-time All-Defensive Team player and two-time All-Star. His No. 4 was the first one retired by the franchise and it still hangs in the rafters at the United Center.
Jerry Krause scouted Jerry Sloan at Evansville and was with Baltimore when Bullets drafted Sloan. Asked Krause once what his scouting notes said: “I would chart how many fouls he took. He’d get bowled over 10 times a game. He didn’t care.”
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) May 22, 2020
“The Original Bull.”
Rest in peace, Jerry Sloan ❤️
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) May 22, 2020
When his playing days were over, he became an assistant coach with Chicago, and eventually the team’s head coach for three years, but that didn’t work out (94-121 record). From there, Sloan was hired as a scout, then promoted to being an assistant to then-coach Frank Layden.
Sloan took over for Layden as the head coach for the final 17 games into the 1988-89 season after Layden resigned, which started a run of 15 consecutive seasons where Sloan led the Jazz to the playoffs.
He did it guiding a young core built around John Stockton at the point and Karl Malone at the forward. It was the glory days of Utah basketball and included two trips to the NBA Finals (where they had the bad luck of running into Jordan’s Bulls during the second three-peat).
Sloan won 1,127 games as the Jazz coach running his flex offense, making 20 trips to the NBA Playoffs, and in 2009 was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach. Overall his 1,221 coaching win is third-most all-time, and his .603 winning percentage is sixth-best all-time. Sloan coached 1,809 games with Utah, the second most by one coach with one franchise in NBA history (Gregg Popovich is first).
Sloan was known as an old-school, hard-nosed coach and it won him fans among both players and the Jazz fans (who would always erupt when Sloan would attend a game and be shown on the big screen).
“It was an honor and a privilege to have one of the greatest and most respected coaches in NBA history coaching our team,” The Miller family, owners of the Jazz, said in a statement. “We have appreciated our relationship with Jerry and acknowledge his dedication to and passion for the Utah Jazz. He has left an enduring legacy with this franchise and our family. The far-reaching impact of his life has touched our city, state and the world as well as countless players, staff and fans. We pray his family will find solace and comfort in Jerry’s life. The Miller family and Jazz organization will be proud to honor him with a permanent tribute.”