Jerry Sloan, the Hall of Fame coach who was a fixture in Utah for decades and brought the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, died Friday. He was 78.
The Jazz said he died of complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Sloan had been in poor health for years.
Sloan spent 23 seasons coaching the Jazz. The team – with John Stockton and Karl Malone leading the way in many of those seasons – ended in under .500 in just one of those years. Sloan won 1,221 games in his career, the fourth highest total in NBA history. Only Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson and Gregg Popovich have more wins.
“Having one of the greatest and most respected coaches in NBA history coach our team was an honor and a privilege,” said the Miller family, who own the Jazz, in a statement. “We have appreciated our relationship with Jerry and recognize his dedication to and passion for the Utah Jazz.
“He left a lasting legacy with this franchise and our family. The far-reaching impact of his life has touched our city, state and the world, as have countless players, staff and fans. ”
Utah went to the final twice under Sloan, both times to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Sloan entered the Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I don’t like numbers and things like that,” said Sloan when he passed Pat Riley for number 3 on the NBA’s list of all wins in 2010; Popovich has since surpassed him for that spot. “I never was. I have a great organization to work for that has given me the opportunity to stay there for a long time. I am very grateful for that and the coaches I have with me. It’s not about me. ”
He worked in the Jazz organization for 34 years as a head coach, assistant, scout or senior basketball consultant. Sloan started out as a scout, was promoted as an assistant under Frank Layden in 1984, and became the sixth coach in franchise history on December 9, 1988, after Layden stepped down.
“Like Stockton and Malone as players, Jerry Sloan embodied the organization,” Jazz said in a statement. “He is missed enormously.”
Sloan’s long life with the Jazz was remarkable. During his time in Utah, there were 245 coaching changes in the league and five teams – Charlotte, Memphis, Toronto, Orlando and Minnesota – didn’t even exist when he took the helm with the Jazz.
He was also the coach in Chicago for parts of three seasons, which went from 94 to 121. But his ties to the Bulls were much deeper. His number 4 jersey was eliminated by the team after a playing career in which he averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 755 games over 11 NBA seasons.
They even called him ‘The Original Bull’ because he was selected in the 1966 expansion design and became a two-time All-Star known for its toughness and grit. He remains the only NBA player with an average of over seven rebounds and more than two stealing a game in his career.
“Jerry was the face of the Bulls organization from the early to mid-1970s, and appropriately, his No. 4 uniform was the first shirt pulled off by the team,” said Jerry Reinsdorf, President of Bulls. “A great player and a Hall of Fame NBA coach, but most of all, Jerry was a great person.”