On the 25th anniversary of his first game as the Utah Jazz’s head coach, the franchise announced its plans to give Jerry Sloan a gift.
The Jazz will honor Sloan with a banner in EnergySolutions Arena during a ceremony on Jan. 31, when the Jazz play the Golden State Warriors, team executive Steve Miller said during Monday night’s game.
After a standing ovation from the crowd and a video display of old highlights, Sloan stood up from his usual seats in the arena and waved.
If Sloan felt the stress of his new gig in the days following, Dec. 9, 1988, when took the reigns of the team, replacing Frank Layden as head coach, he didn’t show it.
“He was very calm about the whole thing,” said Phil Johnson, who came on board as an assistant three games into Sloan’s tenure. “He was very confident in what he could do. … It was a shock for the players to lose Frank, but the team rallied around him. John [Stockton] and Karl Malone were here and they wanted to win basketball games.”
Sloan’s first few weeks weren’t easy.
The Jazz lost that first game, 97-89, to the Dallas Mavericks, despite 29 points from Malone. But Sloan claimed his first victory one night later on the road against the Clippers. Then the Jazz quickly headed out on an East Coast trip, leading up to Christmas. Utah went 1-5 and then came home to play the Lakers on Christmas Day on national TV.
“We killed ’em,” Johnson said. “Ran away with it. Then we took off.”
Gordon Hayward was asked what lessons his team learned after Saturday’s overtime loss to Sacramento, a game the Jazz led down the stretch until a last-second 3-pointer from rookie Ben McLemore tied things up and forced the extra period.
“Hopefully we learned that if we’re up three the only thing that will hurt us is a 3,” Hayward responded.
Enes Kanter walked out of the locker room Monday with a red cap on his head and made his way to the racks of plush dolls and toys piled up against a wall in EnergySolutions Arena.
“Kanter Klaus,” as the Jazz called the 21-year-old center, donated the 200-plus gifts to Toys for Tots, a program that provides Christmas gifts to children in need.
“It’s a really good feeling to just put a smile on their face,” Kanter said.