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Longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan dies at age 78

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Jerry Sloan, tenacious as a player for the Chicago Bulls and coach of the Utah Jazz, died Friday at the age of 78.

The Jazz announced that Sloan died from complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which he had revealed diagnoses for in April 2016.

“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz. He will forever be a part of the Utah Jazz organization and we join his family, friends and fans in mourning his loss,” the team said in a statement. “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 [John] Stockton and [Karl] 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.”

Sloan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 after a 26-year head-coaching career, 23 of them with the Jazz. His no-nonsense style blended perfectly with Hall of Fame players Malone and Stockton, leading to 15 consecutive playoff appearances. The Jazz’s nearly unstoppable pick-and-roll offense resulted in Western Conference titles in 1997 and 1998, but Utah lost each time in the NBA Finals to the Bulls, the team Sloan played for and then coached.

Known for his defensive intensity as a player, Sloan became a fan favorite as one of the “Original Bulls.” He played one season with the Baltimore Bullets before being selected by the Bulls in the 1966 expansion draft. That first Chicago team made the playoffs despite having a losing record. Led by Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker and Sloan, the Bulls reached the postseason in eight of their first nine seasons, losing in the conference finals twice.

“Jerry Sloan was among the NBA’s most respected and admired legends,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “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.

“His more than 40 years in the NBA also paralleled a period of tremendous growth in the league, a time when we benefited greatly from his humility, kindness, dignity and class. Our thoughts are with Jerry’s wife, Tammy, and their family, as well as his former players, colleagues and the Bulls and Jazz organizations.”

Sloan’s playing career was cut short by injuries after 11 years. He averaged 14 points per game, with a career-best of 18.3 for the Bulls in 1970-71. He was a two-time All-Star and was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team four times. He still ranks in the top five in Bulls franchise history in points, rebounds, games and minutes and remains the only NBA player to average more than seven rebounds and more than two steals per game in his career.

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Stephen A. Smith reflects on the career of former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who has died at the age of 78.

“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a 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. A great player and a Hall-of-Fame NBA coach, most importantly, Jerry was a great person. Our sympathies go out to the Sloan family and all his many fans.”

Former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn echoed those sentiments.

“He answered the bell all the time he was [in Chicago],” Thorn told ESPN’s Michele Steele on Friday. “He played. He played hard. You knew what you were going to get out of him. So many players, they’re good for a couple games, not so good for a couple games – you’re not always sure what you’re going to get. With him, you pretty much knew what you were going to get every night.”

After his playing career, Sloan accepted the head-coaching job at his alma mater, Evansville, in March 1977, but backed out after five days, citing personal reasons. In December of that year, the Aces’ team plane crashed after takeoff, killing all aboard.

Sloan returned to basketball as a scout for the Bulls and was named an assistant with the team in 1978. He took over as head coach the next season. After three seasons and one playoff appearance, Sloan was fired.

He then served as a Jazz assistant from 1985 to 1989 before taking over as head coach and going on a legendary run. The Jazz registered 16 straight winning seasons and 15 consecutive playoff appearances. They missed the playoffs three straight years after the Malone-Stockton era before reloading to make the postseason from 2006 to 2010 with All-Stars Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.

Sloan’s longevity with the Jazz was remarkable. During his time in Utah, there were 245 coaching changes around the league, and five teams — Charlotte, Memphis, Toronto, Orlando and Minnesota — did not even exist when he took the helm with the Jazz.

Former Jazz players Mark Eaton and Darrell Griffith, who both had their numbers retired by the franchise, honored their former coach in comments to ESPN’s Eric Woodyard.

“I think the Utah Jazz are Jerry Sloan,” Eaton said. “The whole franchise is steeped in the things that he taught and put together in the ’90s, and I think that everything is measured against that. You look at the team today, and I notice that when players make great plays of effort where they’re getting after a loose ball on the floor or blocking out or getting a steal or making something happen, the crowd reacts.

“It’s what this market is known for and what the team is known for, and I think he was well-revered around the league because of that, because he had one philosophy and he stuck to it and it produced results and everybody got on board from ownership down to the players, and I think that’s the legacy.”

Said Griffith: “He’s one of the top coaches in the NBA even though he didn’t win a championship. That didn’t minimize his accomplishments. He’s been great for Utah, for the team and the basketball world. He’s taken that franchise and made it what it is over 23 years. He’s a Hall of Fame coach, and there’s nothing more you can add to what he’s done. He’s going to go down as one of the top coaches in the game. He already is, and rightfully so.”

Sloan quit abruptly 54 games into the 2010-11 season, and there were rumblings that a conflict with Williams led to him stepping down. Both the coach and player disputed that.

“I’ve had confrontations with players since I’ve been in the league,” Sloan said at the time. “There’s only so much energy left, and my energy has dropped.”

Sloan finished his coaching career with 1,221 regular-season victories, behind only Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens. He was later passed by the San Antonio Spurs‘ Gregg Popovich; Sloan and Popovich are the only coaches in NBA history to win at least 1,000 games with one team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I’m not into numbers and stuff like that,” Sloan said in 2010. “I never have been. I’ve got a great organization to work for that’s given me an opportunity to stay there for a long time. I’m very thankful for that and the coaches that I have with me. It’s not about me.”

Sloan returned to the Jazz as an adviser and scouting consultant in 2013, and the team honored him with a banner in 2014 that featured the number 1,223, the number of regular-season and playoff wins Sloan had for the Jazz.

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

Sloan was an all-state player at McLeansboro High School in Illinois before playing for Evansville from 1962 to 1965. He led the Aces to two Division II titles and was the fourth overall pick in the 1965 draft.

He was married to his high school sweetheart, Bobbye, for 41 years, and they had three children. Even though he coached in Salt Lake City, Sloan and his family always maintained a home in McLeansboro. His son Brian won a state championship for the high school in 1984 before going on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Bobbye Sloan died in 2004 at the age of 61 after a well-publicized battle with cancer.

Sloan married Tammy Jessop in 2006 and had a stepson from that marriage.

Parkinson’s, the same disease that has afflicted Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox, is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects speech and movement and worsens over time. There is no known cure, but symptoms can be controlled by medication. Sloan had said that he was walking 4 miles per day when he announced his diagnosis.

Lewy body dementia mirrors some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s but also causes a progressive decline in mental abilities.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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