To hear Jerry Sloan discuss his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend is like hearing an Oscars acceptance speech — except shorter.
He'd like to thank the cast and crew, the producer, the director, his agent, Cowboy Sam, Mom, Sis, Della, Jaycee, all the talented people at Redolent Films, L.G, Bubba ("A big shout-out to you, Big Guy!") and most of all, you, the fans.
He couldn't have done it without you.
Analogies aside, this is what he actually says about his induction to the hall in Springfield, Mass.: "I've never been to the Hall of Fame. I don't know what I'm doing there."
But unlike the Hollywood types, he really believes it.
In his own self-deprecating way, though, he, too, credits those who made this moment possible, former coach Frank Layden among them.
"I always thought this was Frank's team," he says deferentially. "Even up to when John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone) retired, it still felt like they were his people."
Assistant coaches, Larry H. Miller, his high school and college coaches, teammates, friends and his family are on his list, too. Not to mention the players who made him: Stockton and future hall of famer Malone, whom he coached 14 years as head coach and four others as an assistant.
Which raises a question: Could any of the three have made the hall without the other two?
"They definitely could have made it without me. They would have made it on their own, there's no question about that," says Sloan. "I'm just glad I had the chance to coach them. I had a good seat every night.
"They're the ones that did all the work."
Jazz fans, in large part, have loved Sloan. He has his critics, who say he wears down young players and that he's inflexible. They also point out he has never won a championship. He is acutely aware of that and admits as much.
"I haven't won a championship, so there's not too much fond stuff to think about," he says.
He calls Stockton — who will also be inducted this weekend — "second to none" and Malone a player who "made himself into a Hall of Famer" through his dedication.
At the same time, you could make a case none would have succeeded as spectacularly without the other two. It's less likely, for instance, that Sloan would be an inductee had he ended up coaching Allen Iverson or Carmelo Anthony.
As for Stockton and Malone, there's no doubt Sloan advanced their careers in a way that benefited them all. It was he whose scheme turned them into the greatest pick-and-roll combination in history. Sloan who pushed them to outwork other teams, even on nights when they could have gone through the motions. Along with Layden, Sloan inspired Malone to work every off-season to improve an aspect of his game.
Sloan called out the plays during the Jazz's glory years, not Stockton. He gave them the opportunity and motivation. And the anger, too. You could see it on nights when the Jazz lost. Sloan would clamber onto the team bus in his knock-kneed gait and swing grimly into his seat at the front, brooding silently in the dark.
Nobody talked loudly or laughed.
Great players (Kareem, Doc, Wilt, Bird, Magic, Kobe, etc.) would get to the top no matter who coached them. But the NBA harbors countless stories of great athletes who didn't succeed. Some ruined their careers through excesses. Others simply lacked the every-moment drive.
Sloan excelled at bringing that out.
Even now, when asked what from his career gnaws at him most, he says, "Every game you lose."18 comments on this story
That, then, is what got him and his famous players where they are.
"They wanted to work and really didn't like being around people who didn't want to work," he says.
And so they worked, all the way to Springfield.