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WHETHER IN FIELD OR ON THE COURT, JAZZ COACH IS ALWAYS CULTIVATING

Published: Wednesday, April 24 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

"I don't think there's a full set of teeth between them," says Bobbye. "They all have nicknames, except Danny. Jerry won't let me tell you his."

McLeansboro is a sort of touchstone for Sloan. Each summer he walks the same streets he used to walk when he didn't have a quarter in his pocket. He sees the farm where he grew up, the youngest of 10 children in a fatherless and impoverished home. He sees the fields where he used to hunt for berries and quail to put on his mother's table. He drives the 16 miles of road he used to walk or hitchhike before dawn en route to morning basketball practice. He finds everywhere the source of his tenacity and work ethic.

"No one in southern Illinois outworks a Sloan," says Bobbye, who met Jerry in high school. "They've all prided themselves in that. It was physical labor, but he has been able to adapt to the mental."

The NBA hasn't changed Sloan much. Is there another NBA coach who wears a John Deere cap to practice? Like most farmers, he is direct, plain-speaking, no-nonsense and not particularly complex. There is Dennis Rodman at one end of the spectrum, and Sloan at the other end. First impressions are intimidating - his gaze could stop a charging pitbull on the other side of the street - but they eventually give way to a friendlier, warmer man.

"People have always said I'm intimidating," he says with a shrug.

He is a creature of habit. He rises early, at 6 a.m, and walks a treadmill. He leaves the house at 8:30 and drives to practice, returning home before noon. He has chicken noodle soup for lunch every day. He naps for an hour and then joins Bobbye for a brisk walk around a track at a high school near their home. Actually, he walks and she runs.

He can no longer run because of bad knees. For a man used to physical labor and strenuous exercise, this is a difficult concession. "The toughest thing for me is I can't run," he says. "Going for a run was a great feeling for me."

This was probably to be expected. Maybe no one has played the game harder than Sloan. Says Bobbye, "The team physician (of the Bulls) used to tell him, `You know you're going to pay for this.' He's paying for it."

The head of one femur has been resculpted so that it fits the socket. His nose was broken so frequently that he stopped getting it fixed. An elbow required surgery after years of slamming into the court. He can't straighten either arm - both are locked at an angle - so he probably couldn't play golf even if he wanted to.

"He's falling apart," says Bobbye. "He's got arthritis in everything. He used to have to have (Jazz assistant) Gordon Chiesa help him up out of the huddle because his knees were so bad."

Sloan has found considerable relief since he took up strenuous walking. Climbing stairs isn't nearly so painful anymore, and he can get up and down in the huddle easier. The walking played a big part in losing 30 pounds last summer and undoubtedly helps him cope with the stress of coaching.

"The last two years he's enjoyed (coaching) a whole lot," says Bobbye. "He put so much pressure on himself years before. He finally realized there is only so much he can do. The pressure is on the players. But that's hard for him. He says, `When I was a player I could physically do something to change things. Now all I can do is talk.' He's always frustrated when players don't play as hard as he did. Especially if they have more talent than he had."

As another season winds to a close, Sloan nears the time of his summer migration to the Midwest, back to the farm. He's already making plans, such as using a giant Caterpillar to clear more land.

"I've always enjoyed doing things," he says. "I don't really call it work. Some people enjoy golf. That's relaxing for them. This is relaxing to me."

This summer will be different. The Olympics will call him away early from his farming. Once again, basketball calls. No big deal, he says. He can always farm.

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