NBA • O'Connor says organization did all it could to keep legendary coach from retiring
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A couple of weeks before the first anniversary of the Night That Rocked the Jazz, the messy night that Deron Williams, first, pushed back too hard on Jerry Sloan during a game against Chicago and Sloan, second, felt undercut by his best player and, in one quick moment, undersupported by Jazz management and, third, quit, Karl Malone wanted to talk.
What happened to Sloan had festered inside Malone for long enough. In the immediate aftermath, he came to Utah to express concern, buying his own ticket to the next game at EnergySolutions Arena via a scalper because the Jazz had told him there were no tickets available for him, and spoke to reporters. Now, 12 months later, he wanted to make things clearer.
For four hours last Friday, Malone co-hosted my radio show and talked about many topics, the way only Malone can. His signature point: He said the Jazz botched the Williams-Sloan situation, giving the player too much power, and essentially blamed Kevin O'Connor and Greg Miller for undermining an icon who had coached the Jazz for 23 years.
"On the whole handling of that, I would have to give [them] a D or F, and I would lean more toward an F," said Malone, who has remained close to Sloan since his own retirement in 2004.
Trouble had been stirring between Williams and Sloan for months. Sloan admitted that the two "got into it." Malone said the Jazz had empowered the point guard to go directly to O'Connor when he disagreed with Sloan and that was, as Karl called it, "the perfect storm."
"I know for a fact that [Sloan] was overridden on practices sometime on the road because Deron was calling our G.M. at that time," Malone said. " … You give a guy that much power, and he's the kind of player you think he played hard all the time, but if he wanted to sulk he could sulk. … I never went to Larry [Miller] to talk about Coach Sloan. … It's not one time, in my gut and heart, that I would go over his head."
In that fateful game against Chicago at ESA, Williams busted out of a number of plays called by Sloan something Malone said he and John Stockton would never do and the coach was infuriated. He wanted Williams disciplined and believed management, including O'Connor, didn't sufficiently back him. So he quit. A half-hour meeting with Jazz brass after the game left Sloan unsatisfied.
It's a sequence that has never been publicly detailed by any of the handful of people in the meeting. But it has been confirmed this week by a confidant of someone in the meeting who was told what occurred.
The Jazz have stayed with their company line that Sloan simply got tired and decided the time was right to jump aboard his John Deere and ride off into the sunset.
Malone, who regularly talks with Sloan, called B.S. on that.
"That defining moment when [management and ownership] should have stood up for Jerry Sloan, they chose Deron Williams," he said. "And Coach Sloan, being the coach I know and love, said, 'You know what? We should part ways.' And he said what he said. And once Coach Sloan says something, it's history."
O'Connor, who heard what Malone said on Friday, agreed to come on the show on Tuesday, and he called B.S. back.
"Karl wasn't in the room, I was in the room," O'Connor said, "and the only thing I can tell you is, I'd like you guys to go ask Jerry. … Greg was in there. He did everything possible with Jerry to make him stay, to have him finish off the season. [Sloan] had complete autonomy to do anything he wanted to do, as far as any kind of punishment.
"The next morning, we'd asked him to sleep on it, and Gail [Miller] came in and both Greg and Gail asked him. So, I can honestly say that there's nothing farther from the truth than those kinds of comments.
"The minute [Sloan] said [he was quitting], we said, 'Don't do it.' … What I know is, I was in every meeting. I heard every sentence, every word, and I can tell you what transpired. I would love for you to go speak to Jerry and to Phil Johnson … and ask them these questions."
I have asked both Sloan and Johnson, and they refused to comment. The aforementioned confidant with knowledge of the postgame meeting contradicted O'Connor's version of what took place to this extent: He said Sloan "definitely felt undermined."
That's why Sloan and Johnson, so suddenly, walked out together.
Quitting late at night, otherwise unprompted, with work yet to do and games yet to play, wasn't Sloan's way. Neither was talking about it afterward. His pride was hurt and he was gone. The subsequent trading of Williams was meant to partially clean up the smoldering mess, and also bring assets to a club that wasn't sure it could re-sign him.
To Malone, and those critics who seriously doubt the Jazz's company line, O'Connor responded, "I could care less. … It's impossible for me to care what anybody would say or think."
A year after the Night That Rocked the Jazz, the full truth is officially still a casualty and the end of Sloan's time here remains unworthy of his legacy.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.Twitter: @GordonMonson.