Back in the day, Chicago Bulls guard Jerry Sloan played against the Lakers and, as was his style to get an edge, stepped in front of the giant Wilt Chamberlain, trying to draw a charge, do something, anything to disrupt the super star.
As the story goes, a ticked off Chamberlain told Sloan: "Step out in front of me again and I'm going to run over you."
Sloan replied through a voice coming out from under a nose that had been broken half a dozen times, "I'll be right here. You can't do anything more than stomp on me."
A dose of nastiness.
It's a simple Jerry Sloan recipe for bringing balance into a game where some wear tuxedos and tongue caviar while others don hard hats and bring lunch boxes. At times, it can be a great equalizer.
This Jazz team doesn't have enough of it, Sloan says.
And he should know. As a player, he had it. Sloan rode a tractor on a court laced with race cars and this trait often made things almost equal between him and the likes of the great Oscar Robison, Pete Maravich, Walt Frazier and Jerry West.
If you didn't have the hops, the quickness, the beauty of a game one could put to music, you could always put a tractor and plough in the way and the blessed could trip over a clod.
Nastiness may not be the right word to describe what Sloan told reporters Sunday his team lacked after the 113-100 Jazz loss to the Lakers in the first round. That's a word that could be taken to mean cheap, obnoxious, foul, disgusting, indecent or obscene.
A better word might be punishing as in rugged, stout and uncompromising with a dash of presenting one's self as knotty tough.
Is this a trait or attitude woven into the fiber of some teams? Or more specifically, is being a punishing player or being tough melded into the DNA strands of some players? Once a guy settles for playing matador defense, is he always going to wave the red cape as the bull goes by? What exactly is this trait Sloan talks about? Well, it's setting hard picks and harvesting bone and teeth when opponents come waltzing down the lane trying to make SportsCenter highlights.
It's the embodiment of a certain attitude about a job. In sports, it's definitely about projecting oneself physically or as a threat to another's body or sense of self comfort.
Will that get Utah a win today? Probably not. But it could make it more interesting if Laker players aren't using Utah as a doormat.
Look back at the Karl Malone, John Stockton days. Throw a little Matt Harpring in there. You get the idea. Ask Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman or Yao Ming. They know the term from a Jazz perspective from first-blood experience.
This came naturally to Sloan back in the day. Perhaps his farm boy upbringing ingrained something into Sloan, a former Chicago Bulls hit man, who made a career out of making pretty boys suffer.
Don't see much of that any more. Certainly not last Sunday from the Jazz in a city that gave us the characters in "Dirty Harry, Terminator, and Die Hard." The classic example of this Sloan trait was on full display when he'd go up against Maravich, a long-haired, floppy sock-wearing gunner, who loved to dribble behind his back and used circus shots and passes.
Sloan, a simple country boy born of hard-work, broken fingernails and hand-me down clothes, was just the opposite.
Finesse, meet knotty.
When these two went up against each other, it was drama. Sloan had a way of getting to Maravich. He saw Pistol Pete's antics as a sideshow, something that was put in his face. It was a face that refused to be set up by a clown without makeup on the other end.
"Pete used to hate to play the Bulls," Jazz assistant coach Dave Fredman remembers from his days as a public relations director in New Orleans when Maravich's magic was in full bloom.
Sloan's late wife Bobbye told our then Jazz beat writer Brad Rock back in the early '90s what she remembered of the Maravich-Sloan matchups.
"I know one of Jerry's greatest joys was probably playing well against Pete Maravich. He held him to six or seven points a game. Once I think Pete got 12 on him. But Jerry would be doing his thing and Pete would just get mad at him. Pete was cocky. And Jerry was out to prove a point — and usually did.
"I'm probably conveniently forgetting that Pete might have won some of the battles. But I know Jerry was determined to prove all that stuff Pete did wouldn't win you a game."6 comments on this story
Sloan turned a lot of heads with his comment two days ago. It was one of those quote nuggets that we media types love to hear. We break pencil leads and fumble with recorders and microphones when we hear this kind of gem.
The national media certainly lapped it up.
Simple, this word nasty. Yet, how accurately does the lack of it explain the state of the Utah Jazz of late, heading into Game 2 in the City of Angels?