If you never got the chance to watch Jerry Sloan coach a game in person, you missed something amazing. Even in the past couple years, with Sloan pushing 70, his focus on the ebbs and flows of the game was amazingly intense.
He’d sit on the bench with those hawk-like eyes, and whenever he saw a missed call, he’d jump out of his seat like he had springs in his pants; barking and hollering at the refs like they were part of some evil conspiracy to throw the game and destroy the world.
He was so animated that even fans who didn’t see the missed call would start hollering too, even if they didn’t know what they were hollering for.
Over time, the fans got better at noticing what Jerry was reacting to and better at seeing the game the way that Jerry saw the game. Before long, the Jazz fan base started looking for things like offensive schemes and off-ball screens and needle threading passes to the open man on the cut.
Lamar Odom recently did an interview with Playboy magazine wherein he was asked which NBA arenas are the toughest to play in. He said Boston, of course, but then he said:
“[Boston] and Utah, the fans are nuts…They bring up all kinds of things. You’d be surprised. But the one thing I do respect about those places is that they know basketball. They know the game. You hit a nice bounce pass, you might hear, ‘Oh!’ That’s when you know you did it.”
It’s not a totally unique perspective. Everyone from Barkley to Reggie Miller to Kobe to MJ have commented that the Utah fan base has a surprisingly deep understanding of the game.
And the truth is, for the last 23 years, we learned the game by watching Jerry watch the game.
There’s already been – and there most certainly will be – a lot of talk about Deron Williams’ role in all this. There has been a number of ‘unnamed’ sources that revealed the fact that Williams and Sloan got in a heated argument shortly before Sloan walked into the GM’s office.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably pause here to inform you that Williams has been and will continue to be my favorite player in the league. For the purposes of this post, I will do my very best to temporarily divorce myself from my man-crush, and try to provide as level headed an opinion as I can.
The Utah Jazz locker room has had a long tradition of having a closed locker room and the Jazz franchise is startlingly good at keeping secrets. The reality is that we’re never going to know what really happened between Williams and Sloan on Wednesday night, but there are two things I feel strongly about:
1. While I can certainly imagine that Williams behavior of late has been problematic, I find it highly unlikely that an argument with a player would push Sloan into a sudden retirement.
You guys may not know this – and I say this with all due respect – but Mr. Sloan is a bit of a grouch. Go ahead and name a significant player in Utah Jazz history; Stockton, Malone, Williams, Boozer, you name ‘em, Sloan’s fought with them. Hell, Greg Osetertag once dumped a bag of ice onto Jerry Sloan’s head in the locker room, and Sloan said yesterday that Tag is one of his close friends.
During yesterday’s press conference, a reporter attempted to ask Sloan if there was a confrontation that led to his decision. Jerry didn’t even let him finish the question.
“I’ve had confrontations with players from the time I first got into the league. That was a minor issue.”
That may have been spin, but on this, I take Sloan at his word. Of course he had a fight with Williams. The Jazz had lost 10 of their last 14. Things were in the toilet. But Sloan has had teams in the toilet before and managed to carry them to the playoffs.
2. Under no circumstances would the Jazz front office EVER push out Jerry Sloan in favor of keeping Deron Williams.
Let me lay down a little bit of truth for you regarding Deron Williams.
Everyone in the Jazz front office loves D-Will. They love having him on the team and they feel like he’s evolved in an amazing point guard. But they also feel (and I happen to agree), that he wouldn’t be the player he is without Jerry Sloan.
The Jazz front office has enjoyed a luxury for the past 23 years. They’ve been able to adopt a philosophy that players come and go, but if you have Jerry Sloan on your bench, you’re going to be successful. Sloan has lead the Jazz to the post-season 20 times in 23 years.
And that’s not just a rah-rah ‘aren’t we cool’ statistic.
The dollars-and-cents reality is that the Utah Jazz is a small market team, and as a result, they don’t generally turn a profit unless they make it to playoffs.
There was a great article last year with Jazz president Greg Miller wherein he revealed a little bit of the inner workings of the Utah Jazz front office, and a surprising part of it was that the Jazz have to run lean and tight. Every nickel counts, and a lot of years, the Jazz’s ability to make the playoffs makes the difference between profit and loss.
If you’re the general manager of the Utah Jazz, and you have to choose between Williams and Sloan, believe me, you’re picking Sloan. This is a coach who has a 87% chance of turning a profit for you every year, not to mention a guy who is already in the Hall of Fame in spite of not having won a championship, or astonishingly never been voted as Coach of the Year.
I’m sorry, but if Williams came to the front office and gave a ‘Sloan goes or I go’ ultimatum, he’d be suiting up for the Cavaliers tonight. And I’m saying that a Jazz fan and a D-Will fan.
From the time I was 9 years old, I’ve been taught two statements of unfailing truth. Nobody puts baby in a corner and nobody pushes Jerry Sloan out of his chair.
Every once in a while for the last several years, a reporter would ask Sloan how long he’d keep coaching. Jerry would always say something to the effect that he’d keep coaching until the day he decides he can’t do it anymore, and that he would retire that very day.
It’s always been a possibility that Sloan would just up and retire on us, it’s just a possibility that none of us wanted to accept.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in shock (and I was up half the night writing this post, and I have many, many pages of rambling nonsense I could show you), but as I start to prepare myself to tune into tonight’s Jazz/Suns game, I’m coming to grips with the fact that Sloan just decided it was time to call it a career.