The Jazz's Jerry Sloan is not only the NBA's longest-tenured
coach but also its resident expert on antique stores and yard
sales. "I don't know why, but I've just always enjoyed
collecting things," says Sloan, who has browsed through almost
every secondhand shop in Salt Lake City during the last nine
years. "Pottery, dolls, toys, marbles, tractors--I collect them
This is an article from the April 7, 1997 issue
Sloan, 55, is too modest to mention the one other thing he has
been pretty busy collecting: wins. With a 567-358 record over
his 12-year coaching career, including a 1979-82 stint with the
Bulls, Sloan ranks 14th in career victories. Since taking over
for Frank Layden in 1988, he has led Utah to eight 50-win
seasons and three trips to the Western Conference finals. This
year he has guided the Jazz to a 57-17 record, best in the West
at week's end, thus positioning the team to gain the home court
advantage through the opening three rounds of the playoffs for
the first time.
"Jerry's great at bringing intensity to his team, having players
that respond to him, having a very consistent offense," says
Chicago coach Phil Jackson. "The Jazz do a lot of things that
although they are quite routine and similar, still have the
twists and innovations that enable them to win close games."
Yet for all his success, Sloan causes about as much stir as a
Bee Gees record at a flea market. "Jerry Sloan is the Rodney
Dangerfield of NBA coaches," says Layden, who now serves as the
Jazz's president. "He should be Coach of the Year, except nobody
knows who he is."
Sloan's low-key style might not win him awards, but it has
helped him to gain an even rarer treasure: goodwill throughout
the NBA. Sloan is well-liked because he's one of the league's
most down-to-earth figures, a blue-collar guy who has been
married 34 years to his high school sweetheart, wears John Deere
caps and knows all the Delta Center ushers by their first names.
"One of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet," says Utah's
Dream Team forward, Karl Malone.
He's also the league's best-known purchaser of curios large and
small. Sloan began collecting things, pottery mostly, during his
playing days with the Bulls, from 1966-67 to '75-76. Before long
he and his wife, Bobbye, were scouring antique stores in every
NBA city, finding overlooked treasures amid the dusty boxes.
Today the couple has amassed thousands of items, from rare china
to furniture to baseball cards, most of which they store at
their houses in Salt Lake City and in McLeansboro, Ill. "We're
like Sanford and Son," says Sloan. "Last year I had to build a
shed just to have some place to put all the junk."
Though he downplays his collection, Sloan does admit to finding
the occasional prize. While on a road trip to Buffalo with the
Bulls, he came across a vase in an antique shop. "I asked the
guy how much he wanted for it, and he said, 'Twelve dollars,'"
Sloan says with a chuckle. "I almost ripped my pocket off
getting the money." Today the vase is valued at around $15,000.
For those who saw Sloan play during his heyday with Chicago, the
image of him delicately handling a piece of pottery is hard to
conjure up. During an 11-year career in which he made two
All-Star appearances, Sloan, a 6'5" guard, was such a fierce
competitor and defensive terror that teammates called him the
Gestapo and the Human Chain Saw. He helped propel the Bulls to
four 50-win seasons in the early '70s, but his intensity was
never enough to carry them past the conference finals.
"He said he never had to feel guilty after a game," says Denver
coach Dick Motta, who guided the Bulls from 1968-69 to '75-76.
"He'd go home and sleep like a baby, no matter the outcome. But
before a game, he wouldn't go out and shoot. He'd sit in the
locker room getting mad at the enemy, which was whoever he was
playing that night."
As coach of the Jazz, Sloan has been at times both that careful
collector and that hard-nosed competitor. During games he'll
often stand silently beside the bench, arms folded, as calm as
an appraiser. At other times he shows flashes of temper. In
February, for instance, he gave reserve forward Chris Morris the
heave-ho early in the fourth quarter after the two had exchanged
words on the bench. But a few days later Morris could be seen in
the Jazz locker room with his arm around Sloan. "Jerry's a
competitive guy, but he's not a ruthless tyrant," says All-Star
guard John Stockton. "He'll get in our face when he needs to,
but when we get it, we know it's because we deserved it."
Sloan's no-nonsense approach to the game has been shaped by a
life in which hard work was necessary not only to excel but also
to survive. He was just four years old when his father died
suddenly, leaving him, his mother and his nine older siblings to
take care of the family's farm, which was located 16 long miles
from McLeansboro. Sloan got his first job in second grade,
yanking shrubs out of the ground for $2 a day. In high school he
rose before dawn to make 7 a.m. basketball practice, then worked
after school in the fields until dark. "It was no picnic," Sloan
says. "But we learned that hard work never killed anybody."
Although Sloan went on to star at Evansville, becoming a
second-round pick of the Baltimore Bullets in the '65 draft, he
continued to throw himself into every play as if his next meal
depended on it. When he was left unprotected by the Bullets in
the expansion draft after his rookie year, and claimed by
Chicago, he just took that rejection as a sign that he needed to
work harder. To this day Motta calls Sloan "the most driven
person" he has ever known.
Shortly after his aching knees forced Sloan to retire in 1976,
he accepted an assistant's position at Evansville with the idea
that he would become the team's head coach the following season.
When the time came to move up, however, Sloan chose not to take
the job, for reasons he won't specify. The decision may have
saved his life. On Dec. 13, 1977, a DC-3 carrying the Purple
Aces to a game against Middle Tennessee State crashed and burned
shortly after takeoff, killing all 36 people aboard. "It was
sad," Sloan says. "I had just talked to the team the week
before. It made me realize that basketball wasn't everything in
Sloan still uses the memory of that tragedy to guide him in his
coaching. Although his Utah teams have been big winners during
the regular season, they have never reached the Finals. Some
fans have blamed Sloan for the failures, saying he should have
done more to make the pick-and-roll-dependent Jazz less
predictable. "Our guys play as hard as they can play--I don't
see any fault in that," Sloan says. "It's like those teams I was
on in Chicago. We gave it everything we could. We just weren't
"Some people think if you don't win a championship, it makes you
a lesser person. I think there's a lot to be said for coming
back year after year, like we have, and trying to get better. I
think the value of that is what sports is able to teach us."
Then Sloan, the collector, pauses to think about how it would be
to one day hold the Larry O'Brien Trophy in his hands. "Don't
get me wrong: It would be great to win one," Sloan says, his
eyes burning with intensity. "But mainly for guys like Karl and
John, who've played the game harder than anybody else. They
Sloan might have included himself too. For deep down he knows
that the NBA trophy is the one piece of hardware he really has
been looking for all these years.
FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 24-30
Portland forward Cliff Robinson failed to score in back-to-back
games. Before that Robinson had scored in 549 straight, dating
back to his rookie season in 1989-90.
Charles Barkley, out since March 1 with a lacerated hip, chose
not to return to the lineup on March 25 as expected. The Rockets
then scheduled him for seven days of intense therapy, including
the use of antiinflammatory steroids, but at week's end they
were still uncertain about his return. Houston is 33-10 with Sir
Charles, 15-13 without him.
Can Karl Malone finally win an MVP award? Through Sunday he was
averaging 27.8 points (on 54.8% shooting), 10.4 rebounds and 4.5
assists while leading Utah to the top record in the Western
Conference. While Malone, 33, is not a better player than
Michael Jordan, he may well be more indispensable to his team.
"When I saw the shrimp cocktail and cut-up pieces of fruit, I
thought I'd died and gone to heaven." --Bucks center-forward
Jimmy Carruth, a call-up from the CBA, on the hors d'oeuvres
that greeted him as he boarded his first charter flight.