Hall of Fame NBA coach Jerry Sloan dies at 78

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan shake hands after the Utah Jazz are defeated by the San Antonio Spurs in game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Finals in San Antonio, Texas, May 30, 2007.
(Photo by Tom Smart / Deseret News)

Former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan died at age 78 on Friday morning due to complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, according to a statement from the team.

Sloan announced in 2016 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, a terrible combination of neurological disorders.

Sloan said he decided to go public with the diagnosis because the symptoms were noticeable. He also told the “Salt Lake Tribune” he didn’t “want people feeling sorry for me.”

Sloan is No. 4 on the all-time winningest coaches list with 1,221 victories. Among coaches with at least 500 games coached, he is ninth with a .603 winning percentage.

Sloan guided the Jazz to consecutive playoff appearances and 13 seasons with at least 50 victories, including 64 victories in 1996-97 and 62 victories in 1997-98. Coached by Sloan and led on the court by Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz won the Western Conference title both of those seasons but lost to Chicago and Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals each time.

Sloan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

“Being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is an achievement unsurpassed in my career,” Sloan said at his induction ceremony. “From my beginning in McLeansboro (Illinois), the game of basketball has introduced me to opportunities and life experiences I never dreamed. I was a youngster – the youngest of 10 children – raised by my mother on a farm which was located 16 miles from the nearest town.

“My father passed away when I was 4 years old and older brothers and sisters had to help take care of our family. They could not play basketball because they had to work. Fortunately for me, my family was instrumental in my decision to play and their support was unwavering.”

Sloan was Born in McLeansboro , Illinois in 1942, Sloan attended the first six years of elementary school in a one-room school and sometimes had to walk or hitchhike to high school basketball practice.

Sloan became an all-state player in high school and played college basketball at Evansville. The Baltimore Bullets drafted Sloan in 1965 with the No. 4 overall pick and traded him to Chicago the following season. With the Bulls, Sloan was a shooting guard-small forward with a knack for defense. He averaged 14 points and 7.4 rebounds in his 11-year career, was a two-time All-Star and named all-first team defense four times.

After he retired in 1976, Sloan took the head coaching job at his alma mater but withdrew from the position five days later. That season, the Evansville basketball team and coaching staff died in a plane crash.

“It comes across my mind every morning I go to work,” Sloan told a reporter in 1997.

Sloan joined the Bulls as a scout and became head coach in 1979. He spent three seasons and was fired after 51 games of the 1981-82 season. He became an assistant with the Jazz in 1985 and became head coach in 1988, taking over for Frank Layden.

Stockton was in his fifth season and Malone in his fourth. Under Sloan, Stockton and Malone turned the Jazz into an annual playoff team.

When Sloan retired, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement.

“Few people have epitomized all the positives of team sports more than Jerry Sloan,” the statement read. “A basketball lifer, Jerry was as relentless in his will to win on the sidelines for the Utah Jazz as he was as an All-Star guard for the Chicago Bulls. In over two decades as a coach, he taught his players that nothing was more important than the team. His most impressive qualities were his leadership and his extraordinary ability to encourage his players to subjugate their individual games for the benefit of the whole.”

In 2017, at a reunion for the 1996-97 team, Sloan said, “I’ve been lucky to stick around as long as I have. This organization has been more than fair to me and my family.”

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