Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan died early Friday at age 78. He guided the Utah Jazz for 23 seasons and became the fourth-winningest coach in NBA history in the process. He also left a mark on Utahns, who watched him lead their team to consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 and 15 consecutive playoff appearances between 1989 and 2003.
Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.
I was 9 or 10 and my Dad took me and my little brother to Boston Market for dinner. I was a basketball fanatic. About the only time I didn’t have a ball in my hand was at dinner. And coach Sloan was there with his wife, Bobbye, and I’m real nervous to go up and say anything and bother him while he’s having dinner with his wife, but he sees me and my energy and my Jazz hat and calls me over to his table. I don’t remember much about what all was said, but he talked to me about ball, asked who my favorite player was, and was just kind and gracious and made a young kid feel like a million bucks. Phil and Mike can have their six rings; no one was realer and bigger than coach Sloan.
— Davey, 38, Sandy
In 1998, I was diagnosed with Stage 3B cancer. I lived in Pocatello, Idaho. and I was being treated at the University of Utah, where I had a stem cell transplant. My husband and four sons. ages 5 to 13. were naturally very anxious about my prognosis. My sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Chris Hill, were kind enough to let me live with them while I was being treated and my husband drove two hours from Pocatello as often as possible. Chris and Kathy knew my oldest son loved John Stockton (we had a quarter share of season tickets), and we attended a lot of Jazz games. Chris contacted Frank Layden, and he arranged for us to watch a Jazz practice. As my son talked with his idol, Jerry Sloan was kind enough to sit with me and offer encouragement as Bobbye Sloan, his wife, had completed treatment for breast cancer in 1997. I was a very terrified mom, wondering if I would be able to raise my boys to adulthood. I will never forget the compassion and empathy I received from Mr. Sloan at a very difficult time, and my son was ecstatic about meeting all of the players.
— Patti Farrell, 66, Driggs, Idaho
I’ll never forget — The Jazz were unveiling their then-new jerseys in 2010. Coach Sloan was on the concourse signing autographs. After marveling at the hugeness of his hands and his stature, my friend and I approached, sort of from behind. I slapped him on the shoulder and said “Hiya, coach!” (I was in high school and a dumb teenager, what can I say?) I will never, ever forget the look of disgust in his face nor the fear it struck into my heart when he looked up from the autograph he was signing. “Don’t put your hands on me.” Somehow that interaction was better than anything I could have asked for. Coach was tough, honest, and real despite his celebrity as a sports icon. You’ll be so missed, Coach.
— Westin Porter, 28, South Salt Lake
My dad used to own a classic and used car dealership on Main Street and, one day when I was in elementary school, a little red Studebaker Lark pulled into the driveway. “That’s Jerry Sloan!” I told my dad. He didn’t believe me until Jerry’s tall, gray-haired and commanding presence was immediately in front of us. I don’t remember him saying much, but he was willing to sign a piece of scratch paper for an excited little kid. Side note: My dad actually helped Jerry sell the car.
— Steve Crass, 31, Salt Lake City, Utah
The Western Conference Finals when John Stockton hit the game winner against the rockets. He came running out onto the court with so much excitement in his face. I’ve never seen anything like that in another coach.
— Caleb Pond, 15, Santa Clara, Utah
In 1996, my husband and I moved next door to the Sloans, in a condo at the base of Mt. Olympus. I baked some cookies a few days later and took them over, balancing a 6-month-old baby on my hip. Coach answered the door and was very nice but looked surprised, since he had no idea who I was. I explained we had just moved in and wanted to break in the new kitchen by baking. He was very gracious. “Come in, come in,” he said. He asked to hold my baby, and she went to him willingly. He carried her like a pro, and talked softly to her. Bobbye soon came over with a big welcoming smile and took the cookies, gave me a big hug, and thanked me profusely. We visited for about 15 minutes. They were the nicest, most down-to-earth people ever. A few days after that, Jerry came over to our house and gave me some Jazz tickets. “Bobbye’s out of town,” he said. “Would you like her tickets?” Would I like them??!! I fairly ripped the tickets from his hands. They were second-row seats, and I was in heaven. I had been a Jazz fan since permanently moving to Utah in 1989, but I went to a whole new level after that night. I watched or listened to every single game, and Jerry came over frequently to give us Bobbye’s tickets. From the second row, I could see the sweat drops on Karl Malone’s face. It was a surreal experience. More importantly, living next door to them was a treat, since they were such kind neighbors. In June of ’97, I watched John Stockton nail the 3-pointer at the buzzer and jumped up and screamed, although I was 8 1/2 months pregnant and hadn’t jumped for 8 months. The next day, I brought a huge plate of warm cookies over, and told Coach how proud I was of the Jazz and of him. He deflected all my praise to the team. “I’m just lucky to be part of this,” he said. We moved a few months later, but I’ll always think of Jerry and Bobbye as some of the best neighbors we ever had — and two of the kindest people I’ve ever known.
— Elayne Wells Harmer, 54, Bountiful
Coach Sloan brought great pride to the people of Hamilton County, Illinois and Evansville, Indiana.
— David Cantrell, 53, Hamilton County, Illinois
When I was a young kid, I was blessed to watch one game from floor seats between the Jazz bench and the scorers table. After a Malone dunk, I jumped up and threw up a fist. Jerry walked by right at that moment and my fist ended up missing his face by an inch. He quickly looked with glare at who would dare punch him. (I thought I was dead.) Seeing this frightened kid below, he just smiled, waved me to my seat and went back to yelling about the illegal defense.
— Jacob Nielson, 38, Ogden
Never been to a live game but never missed the televised ones. Our favorite memories of Coach Sloan was when he would jump off the bench to go after a referee Phil Jackson would grab his coat tales to hold him back sometimes he missed.
— Don and Sherry Rawson, 90, St. George
Jerry Sloan epitomized the toughness and grit of ’80s and ’90s basketball. It’s those hard-nosed characteristics that distinguished him most to me. I was six and seven years old during the finals runs, only to see coach, aptly nicknamed “The Original Mr. Bull“ and our Jazz be extinguished by the all-time greatness of his successor. A painful lesson learned — and still felt to this day, life isn’t fair. But it’s how you respond that matters. No rings, no Coach of the Year honors — no big deal. Coach Sloan always came back competitive as ever, leading every possession. Coach Sloan and his exemplary myriad of leadership stories are the reason the Utah Jazz, in our beautiful small city, are amongst the giants of NBA franchises.Thank you and rest well coach.
— Sam Warchol, 29, Salt Lake City, Utah
Sloan set brutal picks for Bob Love and Norm Van Lier, went 8-for-8 from the field and hustled his tail off for the Bulls in their conference semifinal clincher at Kansas City in 1975. It was the first NBA game I ever attended.
— Rick Davis, 70, Pocatello, Idaho
Les escribo desde Uruguay, fanatico del Jazz de toda la vida. Tuve la oportunidad gracias a una gestion de Dave Allred y Omar Canals de viajar con mi señora a Salt Lake City in 1997 y ver 3 Jazz games. Fue inolvidable. Es un dia muy triste para mi.
— Marcelo de Vida, 50, Pinamar, Uruguay