It sometimes takes some doing to get Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman engaged and open in a conversation, but mention former teammate and coaching rival Jerry Sloan and you can almost see the curtain come down.
The two men played together one season in Chicago long ago and coached against each other for most of 22 years. The Jazz hired Sloan to replace Frank Layden in December 1988, and Portland promoted Adelman to head coach two months later until Sloan up and quit in February 2011.
Adelman coached four different teams during that time while Sloan was pro sports’ longest-tenured coach for the last decade of his 23 seasons as Utah’s coach.
Earlier this month, Adelman taped a personal five-minute testimonial about his friend and competitor, calling Sloan the opposing coach he always respected most because his teams always were tough-minded and difficult to play.
Parts of that testimonial will be played during a ceremony at Friday night’s Utah Jazz game during which Sloan will be honored. A banner bearing his name will be raised into the EnergySolutions Arena rafters alongside retired jerseys belonging to John Stockton, Karl Malone, Pete Maravich and other Jazz greats.
“It’s amazing to me that hasn’t been done yet,” Adelman said. “But I’m glad it is being done. It needs to be up there. Anybody in this professional-sports world who was in the same place that many years deserves to have a lot of jerseys up there.”
Adelman learned all about the toughness that later embodied Sloan’s teams when he played alongside the Bulls’ driven veteran guard during the 1973-74 season.
“The thing about Jerry, you hated him when you played against him, and you just loved him when he was on your side,” Adelman said. “When I got traded there, I wasn’t much of a player or anything. He brought me in, took me out to get furniture before my wife got there. He just kind of reached out. He’s a special, special person.”
The Bulls played rival Detroit in a first-round playoff series that season. During the first quarter of Game 6 in Detroit, Sloan broke his foot, received an injection and played the rest of the game.
“He knew he wasn’t going to play a seventh game,” Adelman said. “They said he couldn’t hurt it anymore, so he played that whole sixth game.”
The Pistons forced Game 7 by winning that night. Two nights later, the Bulls won Game 7 and to this day Adelman credits a guy who didn’t play for a 96-94 victory.
“We won that seventh game for one reason,” Adelman said. “When Jerry came up the stairs at old Chicago Stadium on crutches, the place just went nuts and our whole team went up another level and we ended up winning. I believe that was all because of the reaction to him coming up the stairs.”
Sloan is third among the NBA’s all-time winningest coaches, with 1,221 career victories that place him behind only Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson. All but 94 of those victories came with the Jazz.
“He really imposed himself onto his teams, and he had the people who would follow,” Adelman said.
“I’m happy for him. He’s in the Hall of Fame and certainly he should be up there, too.”
The Jazz hasn’t honored Sloan until now because he didn’t want the team to make a fuss about him.
“That figures,” Adelman said. “That sounds like Jerry.”
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