SALT LAKE CITY — They gather at the southeast corner of Vivint Arena from around the West and across the world, posing beneath the statues of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
For many basketball fans, it’s as close as they’ll ever get to greatness.
Now there’s a groundswell of support for a third symbol: Jerry Sloan. An online petition drive was launched last month by Jazz fan Chad Crowell. The petition has more than 2,500 signatures.
None of this drumbeat for a statue is coming from Sloan. Because he battles Lewy body dementia, he sometimes doesn’t care because he doesn’t remember. The rest of the time he doesn’t care just because he’s Jerry. He always viewed awards the way Mark Eaton regarded pesky point guards: with mild annoyance. That’s partially why Sloan never won an NBA Coach of the Year award, despite being a Hall of Fame coach.
The statue idea has been floating around since Sloan retired midseason in 2011. He was the driving force in the Jazz’s rise to prominence. COY winners Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson were more successful, Larry Bird more famous, Doc Rivers more gregarious, Pat Riley more self-important. If you asked Sloan about awards he would grumble that they don’t win championships. Then he’d say it’s all about the players anyway.
But nowadays Sloan’s health is fading. So far there has been no announcement regarding a statue in his honor. It’s doubtful that has anything to do with respect. It would have been logistically hard to do an unveiling while the remodeling of Vivint Arena was underway, and would have detracted from the grand reopening if done simultaneously.
A statue several years ago may have been difficult, because word of Sloan’s health battle hadn’t gone public. Now there are no such impediments.
Sloan is as much a part of the Jazz’s success story as Stockton and Malone. Just ask them.
“The younger guys might not know who Jerry Sloan is but maybe they know who Karl Malone is and that’s what he meant,” Malone told Deseret News writer Eric Woodyard. “He made me who I am. Enough said.”
Statue erecting is dicey business. Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, doesn’t have one at AT&T Park, thanks to his connection to PEDs. However, the Giants have been reconsidering. Sometimes things change regarding how the honoree is viewed. The removal of Joe Paterno’s likeness at Penn State was a reminder that statues aren’t necessarily forever. Norm Stewart, John Wooden, Nick Saban, Lute Olsen, Pat Summitt and numerous other coaches have been memorialized by their universities.
There is a dearth of statues among NBA coaches, though. That’s partly because few stay in one place long enough to warrant memorialization. Some won championships in multiple cities. Pro coaches routinely swap jobs.
Red Auerbach, who coached Boston to 11 championships in 16 years, is memorialized near Faneuil Hall, his cigar poised. Sloan didn’t win a title, but he led the Jazz for 23 years and was nearly as identifiable as his superstars. Other than a brief time with the Chicago Bulls, he was never a head coach elsewhere.
Sloan’s name is on a banner inside Vivint Arena, along with Eaton, Malone, Stockton, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Hornacek, Frank Layden, Larry H. Miller, Hot Rod Hundley, Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich. Miller also has a bust inside the arena.
As the petition notes, “We all know a statue is probably the last thing Jerry wants since he has always shied away from attention, but it would be a great tribute for all he has done for our community and the Jazz organization.”
The Jazz have honored Sloan in numerous ways, including a Jerry Sloan Night. He wouldn’t much care for another ceremony, with or without good health.
At the same time, it’s time.
One Jazz fan blogged that a statue is “the least they could do for coach Sloan.”
But this wouldn’t at all be for him.
It would be for everyone who admired him from near and far.