Jazz fall to Warriors 95-90 on night honoring Sloan
He'd stood before the roaring crowd hundreds of times before over the course of more than two decades on the sidelines, 20 playoff seasons, a pair of trips to the NBA Finals.
But, no doubt, the coach rarely felt as uncomfortable during that run as he did Friday night, as cheers rained down on him.
He took the microphone and tried to quiet them with a thank you.
"I think you can see that I'm where I am today because of the players and the front office that supported me," he said, trying to turn the attention to John Stockton, Karl Malone and the dozens of other people who surrounded him at center court.
But Friday night was about Jerry Sloan.
With the crowd on its in standing ovation, Sloan watched as a banner bearing his name and the number of wins he notched over 23 seasons as the team's head coach Â 1,223 was raised to the rafters at EnergySolutions Arena, alongside the retired numbers of Stockton, Malone, Maravich and a handful of other Jazz legends.
The basketball played on either side of the halftime celebration mattered little in the grander scheme. The Jazz lost to the Warriors 95-90 squandering a fourth-quarter lead as Golden State guard Steph Curry dropped 44 points on Utah.
The night instead will be remembered, as so many other Utah Jazz games that had come before, because of Sloan.
"Thanks for taking me on the journey with you," Phil Johnson, Sloan's longtime friend and assistant, said.
"You will be revered and loved forever and in our hearts always," said Jazz owner Gail Miller.
The ceremony came nearly three years after Sloan abruptly resigned as the team's head coach in February 2011. But Jazz officials said the delay was not for a lack of trying.
"We've wanted to and been eager as an organization to recognize Coach Sloan for all of his accomplishments," team president Randy Rigby said before the game, "and we're glad that finally Gail and Greg and Steve [Miller] were able to twist his arm and make this become to be a reality."
At a pregame news conference, flanked by Stockton and Malone, whose statues stand outside the arena, Sloan deflected praise directed at him.
"I thought I was a great coach until we lost these guys," Sloan said. "Things kind of fell apart there for a while."
As an assistant coach under Frank Layden, Sloan had chances to leave for other jobs. But it was Stockton and Malone that kept him here.
"I know that watching these two busy every day I don't know if I was smart but I certainly thought these two guys are going to be pretty good. â¦ I've gained way too much credit for what they did."
The number 1,223?
"I thought that was how many technical fouls I had," Sloan joked.
The coach talked of "great memories of tough games" and players who were "willing to pay the price to be good." He recalled how, in 19 years of running ladders at practice, Stockton lost only once; and how Malone, after early struggles from the line, "taught himself how to shoot free throws."
The work was what Sloan truly loved.
His path started along 16-mile walks along Illinois country roads after high school basketball practices - "cornball stuff," Sloan said, "but it pays a lot of dividends for guys that are willing to do that."
It included fights with real fists and metaphorical ice picks -Â and countless battles on the court. Under Sloan, the Jazz enjoyed 10 seasons of 50-plus wins, six division titles and and two trips to the NBA Finals.
So despite's Sloan's humility and protests, his players said, he can feel good about all the fuss made on his behalf Friday night.
"He's never been given anything in his life that he hasn't earned and tonight's no different," said Stockton.
"That guy there," said Malone, "there will never be another one like him."