It’s hard to measure success by giving it a numerical value, but the number that adorns the retired jersey of Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan says a lot about the scope of his achievements. It also says a lot about the nature of the man and the value of his contributions to a basketball franchise and the community it represents.
It is not a number attached to individual performance, but to the success of a team – 1,223 victories over an unprecedented 23-year tenure. The four-digit number might look odd next to the other jerseys hung above the arena, but it is uniquely symbolic of what Jerry Sloan is all about.
In his view, personal achievement is subordinate to the success of the larger group. He seems genuinely unconcerned that he was somehow never awarded individual coach of the year honors. But he concedes disappointment that the teams he led never reached the pinnacle of a championship.
But that wasn’t for lack of commitment, or focus, or tenacity, night after night. The result of the fight mattered less than the effort put into it. That is the legacy of Jerry Sloan.
He came to Utah with an already cemented reputation as a never-back-down kind of competitor. He brought a no-nonsense ethic of a Midwesterner that played well in the Rocky Mountains. He emerged as an iconic figure in professional sports, as the head of a team with an unlikely name in a small market that, because of his labors, became widely appreciated as an outfit with a penchant to over-achieve.
His demeanor is not particularly polished and he showed little patience with the politics of sport. But with Jerry Sloan, what you saw is what you got. He played hard and played fair. He was loyal to his team and dedicated to its success. His players are nearly unanimous in describing him as an incomparable teacher of the game, and the way to play it.
And as a teacher, his lessons resonate beyond the confines of a basketball court. They are about personal integrity and professional deportment, something hard to measure with a number.
The legions of Jazz fans in Utah and beyond are privileged to have been the beneficiaries of the example set by Jerry Sloan. He showed us all how hard work and a principled approach to life can pay off – at least 1,223 times.
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