Reflections On Jerry Sloan: The D.C. Edition
I am fully aware that Truth About It is a Washington D.C.-based blog that mainly focuses on the ups, downs, in and outs of the Washington Wizards. In fact, even when I write a “From The Other Side” article about the opposing teams, I still try to slant the coverage in the Wizards’ direction.
But I feel confident in speaking for everyone who writes at Truth About It, when I say that we are basketball fans first and foremost. We watch the Wizards religiously, but we get just as much satisfaction from watching Ray Allen hit a record breaking three-pointer, or seeing JJ Redick get shaken out of his shorts by Randy Foye. There is so much to appreciate around the league, and to operate in a Wizards vacuum would be a crying shame.
So from the time I read about Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan keeping the media waiting after the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night, to the moment I saw tears in his eyes as he announced his resignation, I simply could not believe what I was seeing. I had watched this seemingly unflappable man on the Jazz bench, since 1988, when I was a 13-year-old ninth grader. And now here he was acting a bit out character after a game, and following it up with a tearful resignation.
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Sloan a few times during my three years of covering the NBA, and I have no problems admitting he was quite the intimidating man. The initial time I saw him in 2008, I was in my first year as a writer for Hoops Addict still trying to find my way around, and he was in the Wizards media room, enjoying a pre-game meal. I had this to say after that experience:
I talked to Utah Jazz Head Coach Jerry Sloan before the game and he is as an intense, intimidating person as you will ever see. When I saw him eating dinner with the press and talking to some of the Wizards Event Staff, he was friendly, smiling, and he seemed to be a man at peace. He walks with a slight limp, but his 65-year-old, 6-foot-5 inch frame moves so slow, it is barely noticeable. But when the cameras were on him and the discussions turned towards his team, it was as if as a switch triggered in him mind. He was attentive, he folded his arms and whoever asked him a question would get his full attention until that question was thoroughly answered. Coach Sloan didn’t look down at the ground, or around the hallway; he had his glare firmly set on the person he was talking to. When I asked him a question he looked right at me during the entire 90 seconds, and did not look away from me until I said thank you. Very intimidating. When I asked him how the team was dealing with the loss of Mehmet Okur, who is back in his home country of Turkey to tend to his father, Sloan said, “What am I going to do? Cry about it? No. I have to come out, coach who’s here, and try to win.”
The last time I talked to Jerry Sloan, I had a couple of years of experience under my belt, and I felt a little less intimidated. It was Martin Luther King Day of this year, and the game started at the unusually early time of 1 pm, which meant his pregame presser was going to start at 11:45 am. The first question was about the early start time, and Sloan quickly brushed that off, saying it was part of the game, and that he and his team had a job to do.
The next question was supposed to be about the upcoming John Wall/Deron Williams matchup, but Sloan turned it into a discussion about Willliams, John Stockton, Larry Bird and point guard play overall.
I had my Flip camera going, and I was definitely listening out for possible writing topics as he spoke, but the special nature of this moment was not lost on me. I was listening to a coach who had 25 years of NBA head and assistant coaching experience under his belt, and 11 years as an NBA player on both the Chicago Bulls and the Baltimore Bullets. Not only did he have a reputation of being the quintessential tough guy, but chances were sky high that he had seen just about everything there was to see in the NBA. I had no clue know how much longer Sloan would be around as the Jazz coach, so it was definitely a carpe diem situation for me.
There will be hundreds of Jerry Sloan articles written this week and beyond from writers who have been around the NBA much longer than I have and have talked to Sloan more times than I did. Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum wrote a great article yesterday, as did NBA.com and TNT reporter David Aldridge, who was standing right next to me the last time Sloan was in Washington. Usually, when something NBA-related happens, I simply read those articles and appreciate what my elders are saying, without trying to write anything of my own. This time I was actually motivated and moved to write a few words about my interactions with the now-retired legend.
My favorite Sloan interaction happened last year when the Jazz visited the Verizon Center. It just happened to be the day before his 68th birthday, and a reporter decided to ask him about how he felt:
“Coach, tomorrow you turn 68. How do you feel?” the reporter asked.
“I feel with my fingers,” Sloan deadpanned.
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