Utah Jazz: The Mailman makes a special delivery, fiercely defends his former coach
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Want to get Hall of Famer Karl Malone extremely irritated? Say that basketball passed former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan by.
Then run for cover.
"Some people don't know what they're talking about," Malone told reporters before the Utah Jazz faced the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. "Keep in mind I played with a couple of them and that's their profession now in the studio for ESPN. I ain't going to call his name. He knows who he is. For him to say that the game has passed Jerry Sloan by is (expletive). It's like saying the game passed Phil Jackson by. Old school works."
Malone made a rare trip to Salt Lake City on Friday, one that was planned before Sloan resigned on Thursday. He did not respond to reporters' requests for interviews on Thursday, saying that he instead wanted to discuss Sloan leaving the Jazz organization in person.
It took him a few minutes, but he eventually unloaded as if he was back setting a screen for John Stockton, or driving to the basket. Or blocking Isiah Thomas from getting there.
"I want people to understand what we lost will never ever be replaced — all due respect to Ty and whoever else," Malone said of Sloan and Phil Johnson. "We lost two head coaches. I heard guys on TV talking about, 'Coach lost his will. He don't have the fire.' I heard a lot of that. Half of those guys don't know what they're talking about. Very few of them do. Some of them I played with I mute it when they start talking. Coach Jerry Sloan, what he probably got tired of was what the guys bring every night."
Malone said he wanted to see the Jazz play and the atmosphere around the team before making judgments of the current situation. But from what he's heard from a source he didn't name, he isn't happy.
"What I'm hearing is you could have Dr. (James) Naismith and coach (John) Wooden and it wouldn't matter," Malone said.
And reports that some players felt like the Jazz didn't watch enough film or practice hard enough under Sloan got under Malone's skin.
"News flash: if you're a professional, you don't need me to break a film down for you," Malone said. "If you want to stop the guy you're playing — you're making millions of dollars — you get your TV and you break the film down yourself. You got to have guys that want to practice. You got to have guys that buy into your system. You got to have guys that take ownership and professionalism in their job. It is not their job to hand-feed these guys, and that's part of the problem."
Fixing the problem could be started by returning to the Jazz's old-school ways of operating, Malone said.
"They changed the floor back to old school, they changed the uniforms back to old school," Malone said. "Somebody tell the damn players to play old school. It works, doesn't it? They spent a lot of money on the rest. How about you tell the players? I'm just calling it like I see it."
Malone expressed nothing but appreciation for Sloan and Johnson — and isn't convinced the pair went out on their own.
"I think people don't understand the whole NBA lost a guy that put his heart and soul and everything else in it," Malone said. "Coach Sloan was the most unbelievable person. I know my coach and I know my assistant coach. The (men) I know have never quit or resigned in anything."
Malone recalled heated moments he had with Sloan, including a time in a huddle when Sloan said he'd fight Malone as long as he could see him. Malone's response was "it wouldn't (last) long."
"That's the coach I know," Malone said.
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