(Editor’s Note: Bryson Kearl wrote post this the day Jerry Sloan announced his retirement from the Utah Jazz, in February of 2011. In honor of Jerry Sloan Day, and tonight’s ceremony — where the Jazz will be hanging Jerry Sloan’s banner from the rafter– we’re reposting it here with his permission. Also, WATCH THIS, THE GREATEST VIDEO EVER!)
And it was all over. You could tell. He had seemingly stared down the impossible all weekend, but then he blinked, and when his eyes opened reality was there. There was still a playoff since he finished tied for first, but you could see it in his wrinkled eyes—he had defied the undefiable for too long. And he was tired.
This is a really roundabout way to explain how I felt today when news broke that Jerry Sloan was retiring from basketball, but it’s one of the first things that popped into my mind (other than “Okay, this is clearly the apocalypse—where’s my gun?”).
When Jerry Sloan became the coach of the Utah Jazz I was five years old. So of course he always seemed like an old guy to me. He was old—so what? Age didn’t mean anything to Jerry Sloan, the most grizzled man in all of sports. To me he was the consummate man of grit that would never back down from a tussle; always dirtied his hands during his long day’s work, but always washed those hands before supper. He represented an era that I knew existed before me, but that I only saw on the History Channel or occasions when my grandpa felt like lecturing me about life. I respected him and what he stood for immensely, though I never fully understood him.
However, it finally hit me today that Sloan is old. He was tired. And that means something. He had been around for so long, was so consistent, and so dependable, that it became a given that he would always be around. Sure, I knew he would leave eventually, but it was inconceivable that he would do so without doing the one thing he ever really cared about—winning it all. Jerry Sloan was the John Wayne of basketball, and John Wayne did not quit.
But John Wayne was only ever an actor, and he died of cancer in 1984. So, as I listened to the press conference today, and as I listened to Jerry Sloan humbly submit to mortality, I felt the same way I did watching Tom Watson on the 18th green. I felt deflated. Only this time I knew why.
Despite my relative youthfulness, I felt the shadow of mortality that creeps on us all. As long as Jerry Sloan has been the Jazz coach I have related sports to the world around me. And now that he is suddenly gone, I am learning a lesson I’m not sure I want to learn. I’m learning of the cold reality that not all hopes are realized, not all dreams are fulfilled. Justice does not always prevail in the end. At least in this life.
Jerry Sloan deserved to win it all. And the realization that he won’t hurts.