CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Before becoming a Hall of Fame coach for the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan was known as “The Original Bull,” a relentless defender who was one of the team’s first All-Star players in the franchise’s early years in the 1960s.
Sloan, 78, passed away Friday from complications of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago. Jerry was the face of the Bulls organization from its inception through the mid-1970s, and very appropriately, his uniform No. 4 was the first jersey retired by the team. A great player and a Hall-of-Fame NBA coach, most importantly, Jerry was a great person. Our sympathies go out to the Sloan family and all his many fans,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement.
Sloan was an Illinois native, having been born and raised in McLeansboro, Illinois where he was an All-State player at McLeansboro High School before going on to play at Evansville University from 1962-65. After being drafted by the Baltimore Bullets, Sloan was selected by the Bulls in the 1966 expansion draft. He went on to play for the franchise from 1966 through 1976, earning two All-Star appearances and four NBA All-Defensive first team selections.
He averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 755 games over 11 NBA seasons. He remains the only NBA player to average more than seven rebounds and more than two steals a game in his career.
After his playing days ended, he was an assistant coach for the Bulls for the 1978-79 season before taking over as head coach for parts of three seasons, going 94-121, and taking the Bulls to the playoffs in his second year, before a poor start the next year led to the end of his coaching days in Chicago.
Rest easy, No. 4 ❤️
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) May 22, 2020
After leaving Chicago, he spent 34 years with the Utah Jazz, including 23 seasons as head coach. The team — with John Stockton and Karl Malone leading the way in many of those seasons — finished below .500 in only one of those years. Sloan won 1,221 games in his career, the fourth-highest total in NBA history. Only Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson and Gregg Popovich have more victories.
“It was an honor and a privilege to have one of the greatest and most respected coaches in NBA history coaching our team,” the Miller family, who own the Jazz, said in a statement. “We have appreciated our relationship with Jerry and acknowledge his dedication to and passion for the Utah Jazz.
“He has left an enduring legacy with this franchise and our family. The far-reaching impact of his life has touched our city, state and the world as well as countless players, staff and fans.”
Utah went to the finals twice under Sloan, both times falling to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
Sloan entered the Hall of Fame in 2009.
“I’m not into numbers and stuff like that,” Sloan said when he passed Pat Riley for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time win list in 2010; Popovich has since surpassed him for that spot. “I never have been. I’ve got a great organization to work for that’s given me an opportunity to stay there for a long time. I’m very thankful for that and the coaches that I have with me. It’s not about me.”
He spent 34 years in the Jazz organization, as head coach, assistant, scout or senior basketball adviser. Sloan started as a scout, was promoted as an assistant under Frank Layden in 1984 and became the sixth coach in franchise history on Dec. 9, 1988, after Layden resigned.
“Like Stockton and Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization,” the Jazz said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed.”
Sloan’s longevity with the Jazz was remarkable. During his time in Utah, there were 245 coaching changes around the league and five teams — Charlotte, Memphis, Toronto, Orlando and Minnesota — did not even exist when he took the helm with the Jazz.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)