SALT LAKE CITY — For the past few months, legendary Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan’s health has been declining while battling dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
“He has good days and some that are not good,” his wife Tammy recently told the Deseret News via text message. “It’s a strange disease and every now and then he reappears as Jerry.
“If he gets a good night’s sleep, he is much better the next day,” she further revealed. “It’s all day to day.”
Ahead of Saturday’s Big 3 appearance at Vivint Arena, former Jazz player DeShawn Stevenson caught wind of his former coach’s condition after previously being unaware of what was going on.
“My prayers is up to you and your family,” Stevenson sent his well-wishes to Sloan ahead of the tip-off. “You’re a great man, taught me a lot and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
Former Utah Jazz player DeShawn Stevenson sends his well-wishes to coaching legend Jerry Sloan during his return with the @thebig3: “You’re a great man, taught me a lot and I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” pic.twitter.com/LQsCKhYKxh— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) July 28, 2019
For the past five years, a banner featuring the number “1223” has been hanging from the rafters of Vivint Arena to honor Sloan for his combined regular season and playoff victories, but fans have been pushing for a statue as well. In fact, a fan petition was launched a week or so ago to convince the franchise to immortalize the sideline leader with his heath deteriorating.
Statues for Jazz legends Karl Malone and John Stockton are both planted outside the home arena and Stevenson also agrees with fans that the 77-year-old should be honored with one as well.
“For sure. Come on, man. Yeah, that’s not even a question,” Stevenson said. “Jerry Sloan deserves all that for what he did for this organization and how he fights for his players, how he fought for John Stockton and Karl Malone. He wasn’t a coach that didn’t fight for his players. He fought. He wore that Jazz jersey, he didn’t play, but he wore it like it was his family, so he deserves all that.”
Stevenson, 38, played for the Jazz from 2000-04 after coming straight out of high school to the NBA. As a 19-year-old kid being surrounded by such a veteran franchise, Sloan never took it easy on him, but he still credits that tough love for helping his career span for 13 years — capped by an NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
“It was tough. He was hard on me, but I feel like that’s what made me who I am with 13 years and an NBA champion,” Stevenson now admits. “If it wasn’t for him, I feel like I wouldn’t have played those 13 years.
“He really put his foot in my butt most of the time, but I feel like it was out of love,” he continued. “Now, with me being older, I feel like a lot of people don’t understand. I know a lot of people bumped heads with him, but Jerry Sloan is an awesome guy.”
Retired big man Al Jefferson was another former Jazzman to return to Utah as part of the Big 3 basketball league this weekend, while still holding Sloan in a high regard. Even with his health fading, his impact is still just as strong throughout the basketball community.
“Coach Sloan is one of the tougher coaches,” Jefferson recounted. “He motivates you in ways and he made you play hard night in and night out for your teammates, but he was just one of them guys that when you’re around him you know it’s about business.
“When you’re on that court, it’s about playing hard for your teammates and I wish I had more time with him, but I feel like everything happens for a reason,” he added. “It was time for him to retire and move on to something else.”