Legendary Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Sloan passed away Friday morning after a prolonged battle with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia at the age of 78.
Best known for his 23-year tenure at the helm of the Utah Jazz, Sloan is one of the greatest NBA head coaches of all time. He leaves behind a standard-bearing legacy of excellence that has continued to endure more than nine years after he resigned from his position as head coach of the Jazz in Feb. 2011, marking the end of his NBA coaching career.
Here’s a look back at Sloan’s life behind the bench, by the numbers.
Amazingly, despite being universally praised by his peers, Sloan never won a Coach of the Year award in all his seasons overseeing NBA teams.
If a singular number could be indicative of how under-appreciated he always was while patrolling the sidelines, this would be it. Sloan’s brilliance could only seem to be truly appreciated once you took a few steps back.
Though he was never able to win it all, Sloan did reach the NBA Finals twice in a row in 1997 and 1998. If not for some guy named Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Sloan would’ve likely had one or two shiny rings to go along with the rest of his stellar resume.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. But that doesn’t take away from the achievement of reaching the Finals, which, by itself, is an immensely difficult thing to do once — let alone twice straight.
One of the most amazing facts about Sloan’s coaching career is that in the 26 seasons he was an NBA head coach, he only had three seasons with records below .500, two of which came during his three-season tenure at the helm of the Bulls — including when he was fired by Chicago mid-season in 1981-82.
Piggy-backing off the last point — and not counting when he was fired or when he resigned — Sloan missed the playoffs just four times during his entire run as an NBA head coach.
Only once with Chicago and three times with the Jazz, two of those times coming while holding an above .500 record in so-called “down years” for Sloan’s Jazz program during the mid-2000s.
Sloan managed to win eight division titles during his 23 seasons coaching the Jazz. Five of which came in the then-Midwest Division and then three more in the re-aligned Northwest Division.
Over the span of his NBA coaching career, Sloan had the privilege of coaching nine different all-stars.
They were: Artis Gilmore, Reggie Theus, Mark Eaton, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams.
Gilmore, Stockton and Malone all ended up going to the Hall of Fame.
Between the 1988-89 season and the 2002-03 season, Sloan’s Jazz made the playoffs 15 straight seasons.
A stunning accomplishment, especially with how competitive the Western Conference was during the ’90s — featuring powerhouses such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Seattle SuperSonics and San Antonio Spurs.
Sloan ranks fourth on the all-time NBA regular season head coach wins list with 1,221 career victories — trailing only Gregg Popovich (1,222 wins), Lenny Wilkins (1,332 wins) and Don Nelson (1,335 wins).
On the playoff wins list, Sloan ranks sixth all time with 98.
Hanging in the rafters of Vivint Smart Home Arena you’ll be able to see a jersey with the No. 1223 for the 1,223 combined regular season and playoff wins Sloan amassed during his 23 seasons he was with Utah — a very cool gesture from the Jazz, who retired the number in 2014.
Sloan retired from playing in 1976 after a successful 11-season NBA career, 10 of which were with Chicago.
After retiring, he took a coaching position with his old college alma mater, the University of Evansville, but then nearly immediately withdrew after taking the offer. Tragically, during that same season, the Evansville basketball team and coaching staff died in a plane crash.
Sloan’s withdrawal from the coaching gig scarily and inadvertently saved his own life.
In 1978, Sloan was hired by the Bulls to be a scout. Just one year later, he was made head coach of the then-lowly Bulls — his first-ever NBA head coaching gig.
Unfortunately for Sloan, his Bulls tenure was cut rather short as he was fired midway through the 1981-82 season after a dreadful 19-31 start.
A great sports “what if” to consider is what if the Bulls had just decided to stick with Sloan during those really lean times, and waited long enough for Jordan to arrive in 1984 and turn everything around? Just how much would that have affected the legacies of both Sloan and Jordan?
Though he accepted an offer to coach the Evansville Thunder of the Continental Basketball Association in 1984, Sloan never coached a game for them and instead accepted an assistant coaching position under Frank Layden, beginning his coaching journey with the Jazz.
On Dec. 9, 1988 Sloan was named the sixth head coach in Jazz franchise history following Layden’s resignation, launching a legendary 23-season run of near-unprecedented success.
Sloan was part of a legendary 2009 Hall of Fame class that — among others — saw his great Jazz point guard John Stockton, Spurs centre David Robinson and Jordan inducted into the Springfield’s hallowed halls.
One of the few black marks on Sloan’s sterling record as head coach of the Jazz was the way it came to an end.
In the midst of a mid-season run for a strong playoff spot, Sloan and his assistant, Phil Johnson — who’d been with him since 1988 — resigned from their posts on Feb. 10, 2011.
At the time, there were rumours of friction between the Sloan’s old-school style of coaching and star point guard Williams, with some reports that Williams actually forced Sloan out.
To their credit, Sloan and Williams denied any bad blood between the two, but the way it all ended so abruptly was — and still is — very strange to think about.
Thankfully, on June 19, 2013, some normalcy was returned to the Jazz when it was announced Sloan was returning to the organization, albeit as an adviser and scouting consultant.
By that point, Williams had already been traded to the Brooklyn Nets and the Jazz were looking to build around young, emerging star Gordon Hayward.
Sadly, on April 6, 2016, Sloan revealed in a Salt Lake Tribune piece that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
As lovable and prickly as ever, Sloan wished not for pity, but made the announcement more to make people aware.
“I don’t want to be complaining. You do what you can do. People have to live their own life without worrying about someone like myself.” he told The Tribune at the time.
After a long battle with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia, it was announced on Friday, May 22, 2020 that Sloan had tragically passed away at the age of 78.
“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz,” a team statement regarding the passing of Sloan read. “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.”