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Sloan, Stockton enter hoops Hall of Fame
Basketball » Class of 2009 one of the most accomplished in Hall's history.

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published September 12, 2009 12:29 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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Springfield, Mass. » When the moment finally came, Jerry Sloan and John Stockton couldn't help but look back to the beginning, to the parents and siblings and modest surroundings that belied their stature Friday night.

Sloan, the coach of the Utah Jazz since midway through the 1988 season, and Stockton, the team's point guard for 19 seasons, were inducted Friday night into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Both said they wouldn't be here but for the support of their families, who instilled a level of grit and wisdom that helped carry them over the bumps and achieve at a level that has now guaranteed them immortality, at least in the sporting sense.

Sloan and Stockton joined Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Vivian Stringer in the Hall of Fame's 50th anniversary class, which is considered to be one of its most accomplished.

Sloan became emotional recounting his hard-scrabble childhood, forged with his widowed mother and nine siblings in downstate Illinois. He credited his mom with starting him down the path that led to the Hall of Fame.

After high school, Sloan enrolled at the University of Illinois. But he got homesick - "I'd never really been out of the county," he said - and returned to the family farm near McLeansboro, Ill.

There, Sloan went to work in the oil fields, which he said was "a tough job. One day my mom asked me if that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."

Sloan decided he'd go back to school, this time at nearby Evansville College. From there he developed into an NBA All-Star as a hard-nosed guard with the Chicago Bulls, and a coach who, after a bumpy start with Chicago, found the right team at the right time in Utah.

Stockton expressed amazement at being part of such a select group Friday - "What am I doing here?" he joked - but the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals clearly belonged.

Stockton, too, spoke of his deep family roots in Spokane, Wash., getting unwavering support from his father and late mother, and lessons in athletic humility from his brother, Steve.

"He knew when to rough me up and dust me off," Stockton said.

Stockton and Sloan also credited their own immediate families - Sloan tossed heartfelt bouquets to his deceased wife, Bobbye, and his current wife, Tammy - former teammates and coaches, and late Jazz owner Larry H. Miller for helping them navigate and thrive in the hyper-competitive world of professional basketball.

"Loyalty is the No. 1 reason I'm still coaching the Jazz," said Sloan, the longest-tenured coach in U.S. professional sports.

Jordan and his six NBA championships - two earned by defeating the Jazz - was clearly the main attraction Friday. Widely considered the best player in history, Jordan's presence created an NBA Finals-type of buzz in the city known as the birthplace of basketball. Because of the interest sparked by Jordan, the event was moved from the Hall of Fame building to Springfield's Symphony Hall.

Jordan, who helped the Chicago Bulls beat Utah in the Finals in 1997 and 1998, said the journey of all five Hall of Fame classmates "started with that little round ball.

"I think if you took that away from any of us, I'm pretty sure we would have struggled in life," he said. "That's how much the game meant to us."

Jordan reminded the world-wide media members on hand to cover his Hall of Fame induction that this wasn't a one-man show.

"It's truly a pleasure for me to be part of this and, contrary to what you guys believe, it's not just me going into the Hall of Fame," he said. "It's a group of us and I'm glad to be a part of it. Believe me, I'm going to remember them as much as they are going to remember me."

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