Jerry Sloan, the former coach of the Utah Jazz that led them to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, has died at the age of 78 due to complications from Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia, the Jazz announced on Friday.
Sloan revolutionized the NBA by bringing the pick-and-roll into the mainstream with his legendary duo of Karl Malone and John Stockton. The three of them spent a total of 18 seasons together, 15 with Sloan in the top job in Utah. The Jazz have not been back to the NBA Finals since they left.
Before he was a coach for the Jazz, he was a player. Drafted No. 4 overall out of the small University of Evansville by the Washington Bullets in 1965, Sloan was traded to the expansion Chicago Bulls only a year into his career. As their point guard, Sloan made the All-Star Game twice and earned four All-Defensive Team honors. His No. 4 jersey is retired by the Bulls.
He began his coaching career in Chicago, starting as an assistant before ascending to the head job. Poor roster talent contributed to his underwhelming showing there, and he was fired in 1982. He quickly landed an assistant job in Utah before ultimately getting another shot in the top job in 1988.
He held onto that one until he retired in 2011 as one of the winningest coaches in the history of basketball. With 1,223 total coaching victories, Sloan is fourth all time, trailing only Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens and Gregg Popovich. Sloan was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009, the same year as his former point guard, Stockton.
On a Sunday reunion of NBA Inside Stuff that featured a number of other legends from their era, Malone, whom he said was "not doing well." He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease since 2016 as well as Lewy body dementia.
Sloan is widely considered among the greatest coaches in NBA history despite not winning a championship. Had his Jazz not run into Michael Jordan twice in the NBA Finals, they may very well have hoisted the trophy multiple times. Even without that feather in his cap, Sloan will be forever remembered for his numerous contributions to the game. The pick-and-roll system that he pioneered has grown into the basis of most modern offense in the NBA. He is survived by his wife, Tammy as well as three children.
From the Jazz:
"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. We are so thankful for what he accomplished here in Utah and the decades of dedication, loyalty and tenacity he brought to our franchise.
"Our Hall of Fame coach for 23 years, Jerry had a tremendous impact on the Jazz franchise as expressed by his banner hanging in the arena rafters. His 1,223 Jazz coaching wins, 20 trips to the NBA Playoffs and two NBA Finals appearances are remarkable achievements. His hard-nosed approach only made him more beloved. Even after his retirement, his presence at Jazz games always brought a roaring response from the crowd.
"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."