Banner day: Jazz raise banner for Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan into the rafters
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For a day — a wonderfully nostalgic, smile-evoking, heartwarming, eardrum-pounding, misty-eyed day — the gang was together again.
Jerry Sloan. John Stockton. Karl Malone.
There were standing ovations, raucous cheering, some boos at referees, exciting moments on the court.
On this night, the arena felt like the Delta Center again.
Fittingly, it now has another name from that era in the rafters.
Almost three years after his surprising resignation, a banner with Sloan’s name was elevated into the vicinity of signs that honor legendary Jazz figures Pete Maravich, Frank Layden, Darrell Griffith, Mark Eaton, Jeff Hornacek, Larry H. Miller, Hot Rod Hundley, Adrian Dantley, Stockton and Malone.
“It’s a real honor,” Sloan said, “to be just mentioned in the same breath with all of those guys.”
Once the Jazz finally convinced Sloan to let them honor him — and it took some serious convincing — the organization brainstormed putting “1223” on the banner that was raised to the rafters during Friday night’s touching ceremony.
Sloan, often as witty as he is tough and gruff, explained his interpretation of that number’s significance at a pregame press conference.
“I thought,” he said, “that’s how many technical fouls I had.”
The NBA doesn’t have an accurate figure for just how many times Sloan was T’d up in his long coaching career, but, fortunately for his bank account, it wasn’t nearly that high.
The number on the banner was the Jazz franchise’s way of thanking the Hall of Fame coach for his 23 years as head coach, for his significant role in team history and for the 1,223 victories he racked up with Utah from Dec. 9, 1998 through Feb. 9, 2011.
“I’ve been blessed,” Sloan said.
That’s how so many in the Utah community, the Jazz organization, the NBA and around the sports world feel about Sloan’s career.
That grateful group included a packed arena of loud and energetic fans, Stockton, Malone, Mehmet Okur, Bryon Russell, Howard Eisley, John Crotty, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton, and even President Barack Obama.
That’s right. The world’s most powerful Chicago sports fan sent a handwritten letter to “The Original Bull” on stationery from the White House.
“Dear Coach —
Congratulations on your long and remarkable career with the Jazz. Utah justly honors you for the standards of excellence you set with the Mailman and Stockton. But, us Bulls fans still claim you for your grit and work ethic.
Best of luck in the future. With great admiration,
Throughout the Jazz’s game against the Warriors, pre-recorded congratulatory wishes were shared from the likes of coaches Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Rick Adelman and Lenny Wilkens to former (friendly) foes Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, Sloan’s personally selected Hall of Fame presenter.
“My only regret,” Barkley said, “is you know how good you would've been if you'd only had a real power forward like me?"
ESA erupted in laughter as that played during a break in action. One of many standing ovations ensued when The Mailman, with a big smile, was shown on the video screens.
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