Jerry Sloan was the first NBA player to regularly take a charge. He would step in front of a driving opponent and get pinballed, only to leap up and wipe the blood from his lip.
There were no free layups on Sloan's hardwood. You were going to get your block knocked off by the Chicago Bulls' ferocious tag-team backcourt of Sloan and Norm Van Lier.Sloan and Van Lier.
Guards . . . guard dogs . . . mad dogs.
"We saved fouls for putting people on their butts," said Van Lier, now a commentator for SportsChannel Chicago. "Then we'd help the guy up. We went after you. Players didn't like coming to play us."
In Chicago, Sloan was more like Mike Ditka than the real Ditka.
"Jerry's the toughest guy I've ever seen," said Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.
During his 10 seasons (1966-76) as a Bulls guard, Jerry Sloan never backed down. "I'd dive all over the place," Sloan said. "I had to. I had no talent."
Not exactly. Sloan was named to two NBA All-Star teams and six NBA all-defensive teams. And the Bulls retired his No. 4 jersey. But other players had more ability, and Sloan made up the difference by leaving little pieces of himself all over NBA arenas.
And so when his Utah Jazz went meekly in the embarrassing Game 2 loss to the Bulls, Sloan questioned his team's heart. The Jazz responded, and won two of three games in Salt Lake City.
"I can't make anybody do anything," Sloan said. "Sometimes, guys just slide around and get a paycheck. But if you're in the NBA Finals and can't run the floor, well, I'm sorry."
The Utah Jazz and Jerry Sloan are a match: Tenacious, grounded, unpretentious.
"A team is a reflection of its coach, and the Jazz are a reflection of Jerry Sloan," Krause said. "They're tough, they're nasty, they're competitive."
Jazz point guard John Stockton is, in some ways, the Sloan of his day. And Jazz power forward Karl Malone remains - despite winning many honors - the league's hardest-working player.
Sloan coached the Bulls for three stormy seasons but was fired in 1982. "I had my feelings hurt," he said. "But we all pout for a day or two and go on about our business."
He has been coaching the Jazz for nine seasons and is the winningest coach in franchise history. Sloan retains much of the old intensity. It's a fit. The Utah franchise is a throwback. Stockton and Malone are loyal to Sloan, so the other players fall in line.
"I would do anything for him," Malone said. "I respect him as a coach and for being the kind of man he is. A lot of people sometimes think he is too hard, but I know I need that. Although sometimes he doesn't know when to pull back. But I accept that in him. I accept his desire to win. He has been perfect for my career."
When he isn't in his coaching wardrobe, Sloan wears a cap from the Heritage Tractor company. "I appreciate farming," he said. "I think those people work very hard."
Sloan remains attached to his roots in McLeansboro, Ill., about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis. He goes home every summer.
"I have a farm there and I've added to it over the years," Sloan said. "I just go back there in the off-season and do not do a whole heck of a lot of anything. I don't want to work anymore. I like the country. It's where I'll always be, I guess."
One of 10 children, Sloan was 4 when his father died. Sloan lived 14 miles from his high school. Basketball practices started at 7 a.m. and he had to walk or hitchhike to get there.
Sloan was given a scholarship to Illinois, but didn't like the major-college setting and left to take a job at an oil refinery. He later enrolled at Evansville, and helped the Purple Aces win two Division II national championships.
As a 9-year-old, Sloan recalled that his Christmas wish list included a tractor, a basketball and a truck. Sloan is 55 now, but hasn't changed much.
"He's a hard-nosed guy who keeps it simple," said Jazz backup center Greg Foster. "All he wants you to do is bust your butt. Compete. And if you don't, he'll let you know."
The Jazz are trailing 3-2 going into Game 6 tonight at Chicago and must win two games at the United Center. This is blood-and-guts time. But a Sloan-coached team should put up a fight, the way he did in the same city many years ago.
"I knew I was going to get beat, but you had to prove it to me. You had to beat me first," Sloan said.
If the Bulls win, they'll have to earn it, prove it. Sloan's team won't give them an inch.
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