Thursday, February 10, 2011

The NBA doesn't deserve men like Jerry Sloan

Two basketball stories in two days! The Utah Jazz have accepted the resignation of head coach Jerry Sloan after twenty-three years at the helm of the Deseret franchise. After the team's leanest period in some time, matters came to a head last night as the Jazz's slip became a landslide against a strong Chicago team. Sloan was understandably incensed at star PG Deron Williams' ignoring his play calls to run his own set. Sloan, a proud, commanding but intense man who was a key member of the hard-nosed 1970s Bulls teams, kept the team locked indoors after the loss and met with Jazz VP Kevin O'Connor. It's thought this was to discuss his resignation just a week after signing a one-year contract extension. Apparently his team-over-player ethos had passed it's use-by date.

Yet another example of player power in today's NBA. A man who will be a free-agent in a year thought highly unlikely to re-sign with the NBA's most inappropriately named franchise, dismisses the instructions of his highly respected coach - a man whose combative nature wouldn't settle for such disobedience; a man for whom Williams has played for six years and would know his actions would provoke a reaction. Williams obviously had decided to tune out his boss in an act of civil disobedience of which Gandhi would be proud.

The autocratic Sloan, and his long-time assistant Phil Johnson probably realised their time had passed. When a player whose entire life is only two years longer than Sloan's Utah tenure - no matter how important a player - disregarded his instruction, there could be no way back from such punkdom. It was time leave, and fair enough too. As a player, sometimes the feel of the game comes easier to those involved on the floor, better than to those watching it; but to diss your coach like this? To the point of him walking away? A slur, and not one Sloan was prepared to live with. So he's taken his patterned, incredibly efficient offense and decided life was too short for players like Deron Williams.

An incredibly stable franchise for twenty-five years suddenly is thrown into flux. Karl Malone's replacement, Carlos Boozer, left this offseason. Sloan exits half-way through this season. Williams is likely gone next year even if he does like the new coach's methods. The man in charge of creating those new methods, Tyrone Corbin - remember him in the PC game Lakers vs. Celtics? - will either adapt Sloan's procedures or ramp up his own. Today is a fixed point, from here: the Jazz will go one of two ways - a normal, successful future or a parallel reality like in Back to the Future 2. With that one action, Sloan farewells the longest one-club tenure in professional basketball and 1000 NBA regular season wins being the only man to achieve that feat with one team.

He shouldn't coach another team. It would be too much like seeing Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform. After three middling years coaching the Bulls soon after retiring as a player, Sloan has spent twenty-three years in what amounts to the middle of nowhere, leading teams with great, but never championship talent to the playoffs year-in, year-out. For the longest time Utah has been respected as a group of team-first guys led by Williams; taught and mentored by Sloan. But like all things, it was time to end.

After his wife of forty-one years died of cancer, Sloan has recently remarried and probably decided that spending the last third of his life was better spent enjoying his retirement and not fighting with petulant hip-hoppers a third of his age. At sixty-five years old, hopefully his coaching tenure has come to a close. The NBA doesn't deserve people like Jerry Sloan any more.

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