Reports are out today that Jerry Sloan has resigned as coach of the Utah Jazz. There will be many career eulogies written and spoken in the next few days. This story is about perspective.
Sloan was a Bulls legend and has a retired number hanging in the rafters at the United Center. He spent 10 years with the Bulls after being obtained from the Baltimore Bullets in the expansion draft of 1966, the Bulls inaugural season.
Sloan was a tenacious defender and great all-around player who was a key member of the Bob Love-Chet Walker Bulls teams that came close but never won an NBA Championship in the early 70s. Those teams were coached by Dick Motta and Sloan took many principles learned from Motta into his long and successful coaching career with the Jazz. Sloan retired as a player after the 1975-76 Bulls season.
Fast forward to 2007, when the Jazz came to the United Center to take on the Bulls. I think it was this game. Neff and I went to the game (I think with Burt and Mike) and we were sitting in the second row of the second level on the other side of the court from the team benches. While these are good seats they are nowhere near yelling distance to the players, not that it mattered as it turned out. In front of us in the first row of this section were a father and his son. The father was likely in his late 30s while the son was around 6 years old. But the son and the father were sporting neither Bulls nor Jazz paraphernalia. No they were sporting Fighting Illini gear. You see the Jazz at the time had both Deron Williams, their starting point guard and budding young superstar in his second season in the league, and Dee Brown in his rookie season. They also had Roger Powell, but I don't think he was active that night. All attended the University of Illinois and were key members of the great 2005 team that lost the National Championship to North Carolina.
Now Dee Brown was a fantastic college player and a huge fan favorite. But while fast he's also undersized and never projected to be much of a pro. It soon became clear that the father and son in front of us were huge Dee Brown fans as they began shouting for him when he came out for pregame warmups. Unfortunately for these two,* on this night Dee was anchored to the bench.
*And me as well since I would've liked to see Dee play.
Now if you've seen many NBA games you find that there's a curious pattern with regards to blowouts and bench play. As any Brian Scalabrine fan can tell you, it seems as though it's rare that a coach will empty the bench if there's less than two minutes left in a game that's in hand. I think most of this is in respect to the bench players in that it's a little insulting to get into the game if your only job is to run out the clock. If you can't run the normal offense most coaches will leave the first team on the floor at the end of a game. Also, a lead needs to be greater than 15 points for emptying the bench to even be considered.
In this game, the Jazz had a lead of about 10 to 12 points nearing the end of the game. The two in front of us started yelling for Dee to enter the game as it was well in hand. But Dee stayed in his spot on the bench and the clock soon ran out. At this point the Dad started screaming, "Sloan you suck! You're the worst coach ever! You're an idiot! You suck Sloan! I hate you!"
I was going to nudge Neff and point to Sloan's retired #4 jersey in the rafters but I figured that was a bit obvious.
News is out that there has been a growing rift between Sloan and Deron Williams leading to Sloan's resignation. I'm aware of at least one and probably two fans that hope it started 4 years ago about a teammate's playing time.