Tonight I’ll be going to my first Jazz game without Jerry Sloan as head coach.
I’ll be attending the game with mixed feelings. After all, it was just 32 hours before tipoff, on February 10 around 1 p.m., that I was planning to head over to EnergySolutions Arena and incite a riot: light some stuff on fire, overturn some cars, pull down the giant Deron Williams poster. Luckily for City Weekly, my parents didn’t raise me like that. Plus, I’m lazy and didn’t have a lighter on me.
(But, come to think of it, season-ticket holders got our signed Deron Williams jerseys just last week. How serendipitous! It will be a pleasure to burn.)
Boycotting the game is not an option. For one thing, I have a ticket already (what can I say—I’m easily bought). For another, I’m incredibly loyal, and I’m not going to turn my back on the Jazz after 23 years. Jazz basketball is a way of life. Many of my strongest childhood memories involve the team in some way. “The Shot” still gives me chills. I have an almost Pavlovian response to the opening bars of Van Halen’s “Right Now.” I’m not a very cheesy person, but I’m cheesy about the Jazz. Don’t come around me and say rude things about Hot Rod Hundley or Frank Layden; I will hit you. I can’t really explain how or why I feel that way. I just do, in the same way that crazy people are really into babies or dogs.
When I first heard the news, my reaction was classic denial (“The Deseret News is reporting this? Yeah, right.”). I rode the denial wave as long as I could, but soon turned to the warm comfort of anger (some of which I directed at the blatant nonreporting of the local media. If you have an anonymous source you trust, just say so; don’t pussyfoot around it by saying “Jerry Sloan is expected to resign. Love, The Salt Lake Tribune.” But I digress). Then I fell into depression, which is where I’m at now.
For me, Jerry Sloan is 95 percent of the Jazz. And today, he got screwed.
He got screwed out of a classy ending to a long career. He got screwed out of a poignant halftime-ceremony sendoff, the chance to ride off into the Illinois sunset on his John Deere tractor with the feeling that he’d done good. Jazz fans—and NBA fans in general; Sloan’s a legend—are sad tonight, but we’re sad alone. And we won’t get the chance to say goodbye to Jerry. There won’t be fireworks at Friday’s game. No tearful Craig Bolerjack and Gail Miller. No players wiping their eyes with the sleeves of their warmups.
If the word on the street is true, Deron Williams wasn’t happy and, in essence, refused to play—or at least, refused to play well—for Sloan, thus hastening his departure. Whether or not that is true (and it seems likely to me—yeah, Williams is a good player, but he’s kind of a punk/prima donna), Utah is still without Sloan, and—face it—before long, we’ll be without Williams.
What then? We’re the fourth-smallest market among NBA teams, and Utah’s notoriously fair-weather fans won’t stick around through the fourth quarter in a losing game—let alone through a bad season. A couple of bad years, and the franchise could be gone.
With that depressing thought in my mind and a gin and juice in my hand, I now turn the time over to my husband, Matthew Piper, to share one of his favorite Sloan-isms. Mr. Piper wasn’t raised by the team as I was—he did his growing up in England—so his eyes were drier than mine Thursday. However, he did spend a couple of years, off and on, working Jazz games for SportsTicker and the Associated Press ( his tasks included running quotes, keeping scores, writing recaps and sneaking me into the press box for our first date), and he knows sports and this team.
"Every Utah sports writer has a Jerry Sloan story. They all involve the coach’s homespun humility, and they all generally fall flat among laypeople, because you encounter folks like Jerry Sloan all the time. Just not in the NBA.
I’ll never forget one of my first nights as a quote runner for The Associated Press, in which my job was to report the box score over the phone and then get quotes to feed the writer (in this case, Doug Alden) scrapping together the game report.
I was late that night, so I had underdressed and was feeling pretty unimportant in the crowd of suits. I went to the visitor’s locker room first, since they won, but Doug showed up there after a few minutes and told me to “Get Sloan,” and hurry.
I literally sprinted – in the wrong direction at first – for the Jazz locker room. When I arrived, 20 or so reporters and cameramen were just turning to leave the coach’s postgame interview session. I had missed it. I forged through them in my scruffy clothes, probably with a hint of sweat on my forehead, and stammered an apology to Sloan. He had seen me and was still waiting at the lectern.
“It’s OK. You have a job to do,” he said simply.
He then patiently answered all of my questions.That’s it. End of story. He didn’t have to talk to a college kid at 10 p.m. after a loss, but he did, because he’s not the kind of guy to care what’s in his job description. Deron Williams does what he has to. Jerry Sloan does what's right."