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Kragthorpe: Sloan makes Jazz different

Published November 8, 2008 2:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By now, with coach Jerry Sloan having earned his 1,000th victory with the team Friday night, the Jazz are universally known for being stable, consistent and patient.

Jazz newcomer Brevin Knight marveled at Sloan's history, observing, "A lot of it has to do with the organization and how much they value continuity."

Yet the Jazz almost became like everybody else in pro sports.

After a first-round playoff sweep by Golden State in Sloan's first partial season in 1988-89, owner Larry Miller had to be persuaded by then-general manager Dave Checketts not to fire his coach. Otherwise, Sloan would have fallen 960 wins short of 1,000 and the Jazz may have turned into a standard NBA franchise, experiencing their share of the league's 219 coaching changes that followed Sloan's replacing Frank Layden.

Instead, Miller and the organization eventually created what Sloan describes thankfully as "a really unique situation."

So it was that Miller himself presented the game ball, signed by the players, to Sloan in the locker room Friday at EnergySolutions Arena after a 104-97 victory over Oklahoma City. Naturally, Sloan deemed the occasion significant only because it was the Jazz's fifth win in a row to open the season.

"This is kind of a sidelight, as far as basketball's concerned," he said.

Hardly.

Sloan's milestone should be celebrated as another Utah distinction. This place is different, as some people have noticed, and there's something to be said for that.

Or would you really prefer the usual approach in pro sports?

It happened recently in Dallas, where Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said trade requests from players basically forced him to fire coach Avery Johnson. It happens repeatedly in Oakland, where Raiders owner Al Davis keeps hiring the wrong football coach. It happens everywhere but Salt Lake City, where being unusual is good.

"Here, we all know who the boss is," Jazz guard Kyle Korver said, approvingly.

Aside from disliking the fussing over him Friday, the boss appears more content than ever.

Sloan says the only difference at age 66 is an aching knee that keeps him from jumping off the bench to protest referees' calls as much, but I've discovered a coach who's more comfortable, less paranoid and genuinely eager to find out where his team is headed.

It's a convergence of players who have grown up together, may not all stick around beyond this season and seem ready to deliver a special year for Sloan. He'll just be glad to get past the observances of Friday and Dec. 9 - his 20-year anniversary as coach - and move on with the season.

There was more to like Friday, even if it did not fully become a vintage Sloan game. It was looking that way in the first half when Sloan called a rare, early timeout after the Thunder took an 8-0 lead, and the Jazz responded immediately. They launched a 24-2 run, while Oklahoma City would miss 14 straight shots and settle for 21-percent accuracy as of halftime, trailing 58-29.

The Jazz slacked off defensively in the second half when the Thunder scored 68 points and a 31-point lead dwindled to eight midway through the fourth quarter, a development Sloan labeled "a little bit disheartening." But the Jazz stabilized things enough to bring home the victory, after which losing coach P.J. Carlesimo had to hustle over to congratulate Sloan before the honoree trudged into the tunnel.

Later, Sloan reflected, "I never thought I'd last a week."

Anywhere else, his tenure likely would have been closer to a week than 20 years. It's different here, and happily so.

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* KURT KRAGTHORPE can be reached at kkragthorpe@sltrib.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to sportseditor@sltrib.com.