Four of Jerry Sloan's players have competed in past Olympics and the long-time Utah Jazz head coach has his own Olympic memories from serving as a U.S. assistant at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games with the sequel "Dream Team" squad.
But Sloan missed out on more Olympic involvement for himself both as a player and as a head coach.
It's one reason why he won't deny a player his chance to play on the Games' global stage even if it means risking injury or returning to the Jazz physically and mentally taxed from nonstop competitive basketball through the NBA's offseason.
"I've never asked a guy not to play in the Olympics," said Sloan. "That was my lifetime dream. And I got to try out for
it, but I wasn't good enough reality sank it."
Sloan was good enough during his three years at Evansville University to rack up 1,320 points (15.5 points per game) and 1,053 rebounds (12.4 a game). He led the Purple Aces to a pair of NCAA Division II titles, including a 29-0 record his senior season (1965), and was twice named the outstanding player of the NCAA College Division II Tournament.
But he missed making the 1964 U.S. Olympic team that included the likes of Bill Bradley, Larry Brown, Walt Hazzard and legendary coach Henry Iba.
"I wanted to go, I wanted to play," said Sloan of his Olympic opportunity. "Guys I was around wanted to go and play and why not?"
His dream of playing in the Olympics ended when he was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Bullets in 1965 and taken in the expansion draft by the Chicago Bulls the following season professionals were not allowed in the Olympics until a quarter-century later.
During his 11-year NBA career, he was a two-time All-Star and a six-time All-Defensive Team selection his final eight seasons, totaling 10,571 points (14.0 ppg) and 5,616 rebounds (7.4 rpg) before retiring.
He scouted for the Bulls for two seasons before serving the next three (1979-82) as Chicago's head coach, leading the team to the playoffs his second season. Then, after scouting for Utah, he joined Frank Layden's staff in 1984 and became the head coach on Dec. 9, 1988, when Layden abruptly retired.
He now is the longest-tenured head coach in all the major professional sports.
Less than four years later, Sloan and the Olympics crossed paths again, when the Jazz duo of guard John Stockton and forward Karl Malone earned invitations to join the 1992 U.S. Olympic men's team. Christened the "Dream Team," the U.S. squad ended up being the international darling of the Barcelona Games.
In 1995, Sloan was named lead assistant to U.S. head coach Lenny Wilkens, then of the Atlanta Hawks, as the Americans fielded "Dream Team II." The U.S. team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics included '92 holdovers Stockton, Malone, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson as well as first-timers Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Reggie Miller and others.
Undefeated again in Atlanta, the United States whipped Australia in the semifinals and Yugoslavia in the gold-medal game. The Americans' average margin of victory was 32 points skewed by a 133-80 victory over China and never lower than 22 points.
Sloan recalled the crush of the international media at the Olympics and the pressures and time demands made on Wilkens and the U.S. players, making the media following for the Jazz's 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals appearances seem like small potatoes by comparison.
"My family had fun with it and had a great time," Sloan said recently, "and I had a great time being involved with Lenny Lenny was a great guy to work with. I was blessed just to sit there and to see it all."
The thinking at the time was that Sloan would be USA Basketball's choice to lead the 2000 Olympic Team, following the same path as his predecessor. Wilkens had assisted U.S. head coach Chuck Daly in 1992 in Barcelona before taking over in '96.
But a year ahead of the 2000 Sydney Games, the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich and not Sloan was selected to coach the U.S. men's team. USA Basketball was said not to be slighting Sloan but instead rewarding Tomjanovich for coaching a U.S. team to the bronze medal at the 1998 World Championships.
Because of the NBA's labor strife at the time, Tomjanovich wasn't able to field the expected team of league all-stars but instead had three weeks to pull together a hodge-podge squad of overseas pros, CBA players and collegiate stars.
"What did I do wrong?" mused a disappointed and hurt Sloan at the time. "I don't mind criticism. Did I do something wrong? I'd like to know."
It was a move than puzzled many then and now.
"He should have been the Olympics coach," said current Jazz all-star Carlos Boozer. "Coach Sloan should have been the Olympics coach."
Sloan's Jazz has since been afforded other Olympic opportunities during the 2000s. A skinny 19-year-old Jazz draftee out of Russia by the name of Andrei Kirilenko played for his national team in the 2000 Sydney Games more than a year before joining Utah's NBA franchise. And a month after jumping from the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign a free-agent contract with the Jazz, Boozer played in the 2004 Athens Games.
Kirilenko will join Russia at the 2008 Beijing Games, having led his national team to its automatic berth by winning last year's European Championships. Boozer and point guard Deron Williams are among the 30-plus Olympic hopefuls comprising the "Select Team" roster going into today's announcement of the '08 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team.
They go with Sloan's blessing.
"You try to tell anybody 'I don't want you playing in the Olympics' you've got to be crazy. I would never do that to anybody. That's a lifetime dream."And it's been unfulfilled lifetime dream twice over.
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