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‘An enduring legacy’: Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan passes away at age 78

Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan died Friday morning at the age of 78 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Sloan, the fourth-winningest coach in NBA history who led the Utah Jazz for more than 22 years, died Friday at the age of 78.

Sloan, who ended his coaching career in February 2011, was diagnosed in the fall of 2015 with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia and his health declined over the last several years.

He is survived by his wife Tammy, stepson Rhett, son Brian and daughters Holly and Kathy. His first wife, Bobbye, died from cancer in 2004.

“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.”

As synonymous as the late Larry H. Miller and the Miller family, the team’s owners, are with the Jazz, so is Sloan. During the 23 seasons he coached the Jazz he led the team to 18 playoff appearances and two NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.

“It was an honor and a privilege to have one of the greatest and most respected coaches in NBA history coaching our team,” said the Miller family 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.”

Sloan’s legacy with the Jazz runs as deeply as any professional coach and their team. Even for coaches who came after Sloan’s reign had ended and had never worked with him, like current Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who was hired in 2014 after Tyrone Corbin became coach following Sloan’s retirement, Sloan’s impact on the coaching community remains undeniable.

Snyder noted in a statement released by the Jazz on Friday that even before he came to Utah he was aware of Sloan and his importance to the Jazz and NBA at large.

“But, upon living in Utah, I became acutely aware of just how much he truly meant to the state,” Snyder said. “I was honored by the opportunity to follow in coach Sloan’s giant footsteps, and subsequently humbled by the task of trying to uphold the standards and the success that are synonymous with his legacy. The clear identity that he established for Jazz Basketball — unselfishness, toughness and the essential importance of team — has always left a palpable responsibility to strive for in carrying forward.”

A two-time NBA All-Star in the late 1960s, Sloan was known as a hard-nosed defender and was the first player to have his number retired by the Chicago Bulls (No. 4). He carried that same no-nonsense attitude into his coaching career. He led the Jazz to at least 60 wins in three different seasons and 50 victories 10 other times.

“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago,” Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in 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.

Sloan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

As news of Sloan’s death reverberated through the league, teams, executives, coaches and players continued to release statements paying tribute to Sloan, who influenced generations of players and coaches.

“Jerry Sloan was among the NBA’s most respected and admired legends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “After an All-Star playing career in which his relentless style shaped the Chicago Bulls in their early years, he became one of the all-time greatest head coaches during 23 seasons with the Utah Jazz — the second-longest tenure in league history.

“He was the first coach to win 1,000 games with the same organization, which came to embody the qualities that made Jerry a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer: persistence, discipline, drive and selflessness.”

Former Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan answers a question as he and former Utah Jazz great John Stockton and Jazz owner Gail Miller attend a press conference as the 1997 Western Conference Champions reunite on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

While Sloan’s achievements on the court and as the coach of the Jazz are the reason that Sloan’s name is so well known, many who knew him made a point on Friday to note that it was who he was as a person that added so much to his legacy.

“It’s a sad day for all of us who knew Jerry Sloan,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Not only on the basketball court but, more importantly, as a human being. He was genuine and true. And that is rare. He was a mentor for me from afar until I got to know him. A man who suffered no fools, he possessed a humor, often disguised, and had a heart as big as the prairie.”