SALT LAKE CITY — Before Rick Carlisle became a championship-winning coach of the Dallas Mavericks, or a head coach anywhere, Jerry Sloan invited him into a Jazz training camp.
Sloan was already a revered coach at that point and had, for a decade, sculpted the Jazz into a title contender, and yet, he let a young aspiring coach in to watch and to learn.
“It was very educational. It was when John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone) were still in their prime and I got to visit with Jerry and his staff and learned a lot,” Carlisle said.
So while Carlisle remembers Sloan, who passed away at 78 early Friday morning, for his toughness, his grit and his no-nonsense approach that defined him to so many, he also remembers him for a softer quality: his selflessness.
“He’s a man’s man; a coach’s coach,” Carlisle said. “I got to know him very well over the years. He was a giver. There are just so many wonderful personal qualities that it’d be hard to get to them.”
That made Friday a somber day throughout the NBA. The respect Sloan garnered throughout his life was immense. If anything, Sloan was consistent. In the way he coached; in the way he treated people; in the way he lived his life.
Opposing coaches and players may have hated playing against his teams, but only because they knew what they were going to get.
“You knew they were going to be tough, you knew they were going to be disciplined, you knew they were going to be fundamental and, most likely, they were going to win,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier this season, before adding with a laugh, “and then he intimidated the refs, too.”
That tough consistent approach made him beloved in Utah and throughout the NBA. San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich credits what Sloan was able to do in Utah in inspiring Spurs' dynasty. And Sloan's patented pick-and-roll sets have become the basis of the majority of NBA offenses today.
“He was one of those iconic coaches who was a wonderful example of consistency, mental and physical toughness, demanding but fair, suffered no fools, took no prisoners,” Popovich said. “And we did our best to try to emulate all that because it was pretty impressive and pretty successful. He was a wonderful coach, and an even better human being.”
Before Sloan was the Hall-of-Fame coach of the Jazz, he was “The Original Bull.” Sloan’s No. 4 jersey hangs in the rafters of the United Center in Chicago. It was the first number retired by the franchise.
“I loved everything about Jerry Sloan, from the way he played to the way he coached,” former Chicago Bull great Scottie Pippen said on Twitter. “He was a tenacious competitor who represented the Bulls of the 70s so well. Jerry became one of my favorite coaches when he was on the 1996 Dream Team staff and it was an honor to learn from him.”
In a statement, Chicago Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Sloan’s “tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago.”
University of Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who played one season under Sloan and was often seen sitting next to him during Jazz games following Sloan’s retirement, said Sloan was a fighter and epitomized the word toughness.
“You knew with Jerry you had a chance because he was in the foxhole with you,” Krystkowiak said. “Always loyal and dependable. It will always be an honor to call him friend and coach.”
Former Jazz forward Paul Millsap, who went from a second-round pick to All-Star with the help of the legendary coach, referenced one of Sloan's many common saying in his tribute to him.
“Thank you for the opportunities, thank you for the lessons, thank you for help(ing) mold me into a great basketball player and man,” Millsap wrote on Twitter. “I will always bring my ‘lunch pail’ to work!”
Former Jazz All-Star guard Deron Williams, whose arguments with his coach eventually led to Sloan’s resignation, said he was grateful the two had been able to talk through things before it was too late.
“Definitely something that would have haunted me for the rest of my life,” Williams said on Instagram. “Blessed that (I) got to play for him and learn so much from him. … You knew he always had your back when you stepped out on that court.”
And that was something everyone respected — from his own players to his opponents.
“Jerry was tough as nails and his players reflected his personality — his Jazz teams gave us all we could handle in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals,” Pippen wrote. “It was an honor to know him, play for him, and play against him. Rest easy, coach.”