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Jerry Sloan has outlasted almost everyone. Coaches, players, friends. Owners, general managers and fans.
As the NBA and modern sports have rapidly changed and evolved, the longtime Jazz coach has mostly remained the same. Sloan has made slight tweaks, slowly adapting his demanding style and rock-strong personality over time. But for the most part during his 33 combined seasons as a player and coach in the league the 2010-11 season marks his 23rd guiding Utah Sloan has stayed true to himself and the game.
"It's all I know how to do," Sloan, 68, said.
Which is not exactly true. Sloan knows how to do other things, and he is a big proponent of the theory that basketball is not life. Life is what happens outside the lines; sport is played within them.
But the lack of ego, self-deprecation and offbeat humor that make Sloan a favorite among his peers have also served him well over time. While others have burned out, been fired or simply given up, Sloan has persevered. And while 242 NBA coaches have come and gone since Sloan took over the Jazz in 1988, he is just five wins away from tying Pat Riley for third on the league's all-time coaching-victories list.
Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Sloan's success has been predicated upon maximizing good but not superior talent. In turn, the Utah coach has thrived by creating pass-heavy teams that share the ball, divide the work and expertly exploit an opponent's weakness.
"Jerry's an animal," Jackson said. "He's a dogged guy. He's somebody I've watched play basketball for 40-something years. … He's been playing and coaching basketball as long as I can remember, as far as an adult life goes.
"His statement is always, 'You've got to work hard. You've got to do this hard. You've got to play hard. You have to show up and be present.' And that's kind of the model he's always had, and he's good at that. He's good at inspiring his team like that.' "
Annual inspiration has gone a long way for Sloan and the consistently competitive small-market Jazz. His accumulating accolades highlighted by a 2009 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame are awesome. A 1,190-780 career record and 60.4 winning percentage. Twenty playoff appearances, including 15 consecutive from 1988-2003. And his 1,096 victories with Utah are the most ever recorded in the NBA by a coach with one team.
Everything from Sloan's intricate offensive and defensive systems to player discipline and a devout belief in self-accountability have allowed the small-town speaking native of McLeansboro, Ill., to live a long, highly productive life in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, big-city, bright-lights world of the NBA. But at the core of Sloan's consistency are a personality and coaching style as predictable as his haircut, game-day suit and at times sharp tongue.
"I'm somewhat envious of the fact that he does things his way. They're 100 percent his way," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "He established a toughness with his team. He's not a screamer, he's not a yeller, he's not anything. I think he gets the point across that it's going to be done this way or you just don't play. And I think coaches have an unbelievable respect for that."
But for all the respect that Sloan has earned, he has also learned when to preach and when to defer. To Sloan, the ownership of the Miller family, as well as the work of GM Kevin O'Connor and longtime assistant coaches Phil Johnson, Tyrone Corbin and Scott Layden have been as instrumental to his success as any other slight tweak or adaptation in recent years. In addition, the latter three have left a lasting mark, allowing Sloan to navigate through yet another offseason filled with upheaval and change, efficiently moving toward a 2010-11 campaign that will balance potential with uncertainty.
"I think one of the most important things is having the kind of people I have that work with me," Sloan said. "Phil, Ty and Scott and those guys have all been around me all my life."
Sloan is also always quick to point out that he does not know everything, while often reminding reporters that he actually knows less and less as the years go by.
But buried within his sly humor and steadfast mannerisms are diamonds of knowledge. Sloan has long understood the NBA is a players' league; the game does not belong to the coaches on the carousel. Chemistry, selflessness and an all-for-one mentality will eventually shine brighter than highlight reels. And a team and a franchise cannot develop unless the players do.
"I've only done day-to-day work as long as I've been here," Sloan said. "I might wake up tomorrow and say it's time for me to leave. They might have the same idea. I'm not doing cartwheels."
But he added: "It's been a wonderful opportunity for me."
Jerry Sloan file
Seasons • 23
Age • 68
Record • 1,190-780 (.604)
Playoffs • 20 appearances, 15 consecutive from 1988-2003
Born • McLeansboro, Ill.
Hobbies • Garage sales, restoring John Deere tractors
All-time NBA coaching wins
W L Pct.
1. Don Nelson 1,335 1,063 .557
2. Lenny Wilkens 1,332 1,155 .536
3. Pat Riley 1,195 627 .656
4. Jerry Sloan 1,190 780 .604
5. Phil Jackson 1,098 460 .705