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Longtime Jazz coach Jerry Sloan dies at age 78



Jerry Sloan, a bulldog as a player for the Chicago Bulls and coach of the Utah Jazz, died Friday at the age of 78.

The Jazz announced that Sloan had died from complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, which he had revealed diagnoses of in April 2016.

“Jerry Sloan will always be synonymous with the Utah Jazz. He will forever be a part of the Utah Jazz organization and we join his family, friends and fans in mourning his loss,” the team said in a statement. “We are so thankful for what he accomplished here in Utah and the decades of dedication, loyalty and tenacity he brought to our franchise.

“… Like [John] Stockton and [Karl] Malone as players, Jerry Sloan epitomized the organization. He will be greatly missed. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Tammy, the entire Sloan family and all who knew and loved him.”

Sloan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 after a 26-year coaching career, 23 of them with the Jazz. His no-nonsense style blended perfectly with Hall of Fame players Malone and Stockton, leading to 15 straight playoff appearances. The Jazz’s nearly unstoppable pick-and-roll offense resulted in Western Conference titles in 1997 and 1998, but Utah lost each time to the Bulls, the team Sloan played for and coached.

Known for his defensive intensity as a player, Sloan became a fan favorite as one of the “Original Bulls.” He played one season with the Baltimore Bullets before being taken by the Bulls in the expansion draft. That first Chicago team made the playoffs despite having a losing record. Led by Bob Love, Norm Van Lier, Nate Thurmond and Sloan, the Bulls reached the postseason in seven of their first eight seasons, losing in the conference finals twice.

Sloan’s playing career was cut short by injuries after 10 years. He averaged 14.0 points per game, with a career-best of 18.3 with the Bulls in 1970-71. He was a two-time All-Star and was four times named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team. He still ranks in the top five in Bulls franchise history in points, rebounds, games and minutes.

“Jerry Sloan was ‘The Original Bull’ whose tenacious defense and nightly hustle on the court represented the franchise and epitomized the city of Chicago,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Jerry was the face of the Bulls organization from its inception through the mid-1970s, and very appropriately, his uniform No. 4 was the first jersey retired by the team. A great player and a Hall-of-Fame NBA coach, most importantly, Jerry was a great person. Our sympathies go out to the Sloan family and all his many fans.”

After his playing career, Sloan accepted the head-coaching job at his alma mater Evansville in March 1977 but backed out after five days, citing personal reasons. In December of that year, the Aces’ team plane crashed after takeoff, killing all aboard.

Sloan returned to basketball as a scout for the Bulls and was named an assistant with the team in 1978. He took over as head coach the next season. After three seasons and one playoff appearance, Sloan was fired.

He then served as a Jazz assistant from 1985 to 1989 before taking over as head coach and going on a legendary run. The Jazz registered 16 straight winning seasons and 15 consecutive playoff appearances. They missed the playoffs three straight years in the post-Malone-Stockton era before reloading to make the postseason from 2006 to 2010 with All-Stars Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.

Sloan quit abruptly 54 games into the 2010-11 season, and there were rumblings that a conflict with Williams led to him stepping down. Both the coach and player disputed that, however.

“I’ve had confrontations with players since I’ve been in the league,” Sloan said at the time. “There’s only so much energy left, and my energy has dropped.”

Sloan finished his coaching career with 1,221 regular-season victories, behind only Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens. He was later passed by the San Antonio Spurs‘ Gregg Popovich; Sloan and Popovich are the only coaches in NBA history to win at least 1,000 games with one team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Sloan returned to the Jazz as an adviser and scouting consultant in 2013, and the team honored him with a banner in 2014 that featured the number 1,223, the number of regular-season and playoff wins Sloan had for the Jazz.

He was an All-State player at McLeansboro High School in Illinois before playing for Evansville from 1962 to 1965. He led the Aces to two Division II titles and was the fourth overall pick in the 1965 draft.

Sloan was married to his high school sweetheart Bobbye for 41 years, and they had three children. Even though he coached in Salt Lake City, Sloan and his family always maintained a home in McLeansboro. His son Brian won a state championship for the high school in 1984 before going on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Bobbye Sloan died in 2004 at the age of 61 after a well-publicized battle with cancer.

Sloan married Tammy Jessop in 2006 and had a stepson from that marriage.

Parkinson’s, the same disease that has afflicted boxing great Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox, is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects speech and movement and worsens over time. There is no known cure, but symptoms can be controlled by medication and Sloan had said that he was walking four miles per day when he announced his diagnosis.

Lewy body dementia mirrors some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s but also causes a progressive decline in mental abilities.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Wizards’ Bradley Beal says trade rumors ‘a sign of respect’



Even in the middle of a pandemic, when nobody is playing, Bradley Beal‘s name still emerged in trade rumors.

The New York Daily News last week reported that the Brooklyn Nets have had “internal discussions” regarding pursuing the 26-year-old Wizards guard, who signed a two-year $72 million extension in October.

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN. “It’s interesting. To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things, and guys want to play with me.

“That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie (Irving) and KD (Kevin Durant) want you, sh–, that’s amazing. At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team.

“But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”

Beal knows the formula. He watched Anthony Davis express his loyalty to the New Orleans Pelicans — until he finally determined he needed a bigger market that would produce more wins. Some of the game’s brightest stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, for example — forced the hand of their teams to land in a more desirable environment. But, Beal says, he’s not ready to do that.

“My biggest thing right now is that I want to play with John (Wall) again,” Beal said. “I want to see him get back to that level where I know he can be, especially since my game has grown so much (while he’s been out). What can we accomplish together? I’m so happy he’s healthy, working his tail off.”

Beal said Wall had returned to practicing with the team shortly before the pandemic hit, engaging in drills and even some light scrimmaging.

“He looked great,” Beal said. “I was super encouraged. We went from seeing John motoring around every day on a wheeler to watching him dunk the ball. I saw that just before we stopped playing, and I was thinking, ‘Wow! He’s back. We’ve missed that.’ The few practices he participated in with us changed the whole outlook of our team.”

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Chris Paul as the players’ president during a pandemic and NBA suspension



MICHELE ROBERTS HAD just stepped out of an Uber when her phone started buzzing.

It was a little after 8 p.m. on March 11, and the National Basketball Players Association executive director had left her New York office after meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver to discuss the next steps amid the growing coronavirus crisis.

She figured she had already missed tipoff of the Utah JazzOklahoma City Thunder game. So when she saw the name lighting up both of her phones, she knew something was wrong.

It was Chris Paul.

“Michele, what’s going on?” Paul said.

“You tell me,” she replied.

The Thunder point guard, with confusion engulfing Chesapeake Energy Arena following Rudy Gobert‘s positive test just before the Thunder and Jazz were about to play, saw his basketball worlds colliding. As players’ union president, Paul was suddenly straddling roles.

With his team rattled, Paul provided a calming voice. Thunder players waited together after the game was officially canceled, getting their temperatures checked before being cleared to leave. The Jazz, meanwhile, sat in a circle wearing masks and rubber gloves about 50 yards down the hall. Paul arranged for his personal security guard, Gene Escamilla, to deliver them beer and wine to help pass the time and ease the tension.

Paul has been NBPA president since 2013 and has spent the past 11 years on the executive committee. He has been at the front of heated labor negotiations and league-changing decisions.

This battle has been different: an unprecedented, unpredictable bout with an unseen opponent.

Since the season was put on hold, Paul has emerged as one of the most influential — and busiest — figures as the league navigates a potential restart. In the era of player empowerment, there aren’t many who wield as much power as Paul. His goal is that the union has plenty too.

“We always make sure,” Paul said, “we have players — plural — involved in those conversations.”

MORE: What the new version of the NBA playoffs should look like

ON A SUNNY day in mid-April, the sun crested over Los Angeles, but Paul wished to be over a thousand miles away: poring over film in Oklahoma City, preparing for Game 2 or 3 of a first-round series. He wanted to be hooping.

Instead of getting up shots in his team’s practice facility, Paul has been having direct conversations with Silver more than once a week as the liaison between the commissioner and the players. Paul has served as a sounding board for those looking for advice, ideas or an outlet for their frustration.

“Hell, I need to vent at times,” Paul said. “I just look at it as guys are actually concerned and they want to know what’s going on. They should have a say in their future.”

Between homeschooling his kids and finding time to take online Spanish classes (“I’m trying to get better at something,” he said.), Paul has had calls almost every morning — most often union-related — and more in the afternoon.

“He’s never said, ‘Can I get back to you?’ Never,” Roberts said of Paul, who will often surprise Roberts’ staff by jumping on a conference call to offer encouragement and share ideas.

“Being accessible has been a godsend.”

Up until last month, the executive committee was holding three to four conference calls a week, with much of that time devoted to interviewing and discussing candidates to be Roberts’ successor.

The union’s focus has shifted in recent weeks as the likelihood its members will be presented with a return-to-play plan has increased. Paul has been active every step of the way, preparing players for the many discussion points to come.

As rumblings of restart options and hypothetical scenarios have dotted their social media timelines, players across the league have been peppering Paul with the same questions curious basketball fans might have.

“When are we going to play? How are we going to play? Where are we going to play?” said executive committee member Anthony Tolliver, outlining what’s being posed to Paul. “Are we going to try and finish the regular season? Is it worth it? Is it going to be too much? Are we going to bring guys back and possibly be subject to a bunch of injuries because of the circumstances? Just walking through and talking through all that stuff.”

On April 22, Paul jumped on a conference call with local Oklahoma City reporters and received the same inquiries. He deftly maneuvered them as if he were snaking his way around a screen.

But as the call wrapped up, Paul had one more thing to say. He wanted to apologize.

He didn’t have the answers, and there has been no one for him to ask either — a peculiar problem for someone with such a deep list of league contacts.

“I’m telling you, I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s one of the craziest situations, because usually if something new is trying to be introduced to the league, or there’s going to be something new to the All-Star Game, or All-Star Weekend, it’s all about just finding out who knows, right? Like, ‘How can you get to Adam [Silver] and find out?’

“But no matter who you get to right now, no one knows.”

Day by day, talks have evolved, information has expanded and options have emerged. Paul, Roberts and the executive committee have now started conducting Zoom calls with all 30 teams individually to provide details on potential restart options.

A return-to-play protocol will need to be collectively bargained with the NBPA, and Paul will spearhead many of those discussions. Player pay reduction, contract incentive bonuses and the salary cap and luxury tax for 2020-21 will be negotiated.

There’s also a longer list of concerns, such as adjusting the basketball calendar year, the trade deadline, when non-guaranteed contracts would be protected and the last day to waive players. Paul has already been forming groups of players to collect ideas and proposals.

“I could literally talk about [restart plans] all day with a passion and excitement of knowing that, when a conversation does happen with the league or with Adam, there’s no pressure of saying like, ‘This is what I want to do,'” Paul said.

“Because you know this is what we have decided.”

As union president, Paul possesses the rare ability to gather the league’s top stars — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant — on conference calls.

That buy-in wasn’t there before, and high-ranking union members view Paul’s long-time superstar status as a big reason for the change. Players are more invested in their futures. They want more say. They want more power.

“Our meetings are much more engaged now. That’s because of Chris,” Roberts said. “He won’t allow an issue to be presented and then not discussed.”



Chris Paul had a little extra help on hand from his son Chris Paul Jr. during the HORSE contest.

PAUL’S VOICE CARRIES weight in conversations with the players’ union, but he doesn’t look to dominate them. He approaches a conference call much in the same way he approaches the game.

“I frequently joke about this, he’s obviously a point guard and his claim to fame in terms of skill set is his ability to read the room, read the floor and pass the ball,” Roberts said. “He does that in meetings too.

“If Chris sees a player who has not said much, he’ll ask, ‘John, what do you think about this? Come on, weigh in.’ That’s what he does. It’s a delight.”

Paul also leans heavily on NBPA executive members Tolliver and first vice president Andre Iguodala.

“Me and Dre, I was Clippers/Houston and he was Golden State, you know what I mean?” Paul said, referring to the teams’ famous playoff battles. “We even played against each other in AAU since we were in high school. But I can’t imagine going through what we’re going through now, first of all without the executive committee as a whole, but especially without those two.”

Paul’s competitiveness spills over into the role, but any beefs he has across the league don’t carry into meetings with players.

“Pretty much everybody that I can imagine would have an on-court beef with him,” Tolliver said. “I’ve never seen any sort of negative confrontation [off the court].

“Most people’s experience with him is he’s so competitive … but that also is good for whenever he’s your president and he’s fighting [for] the things you want.”

Not all of Paul’s tenure as president has been popular. There has been grumbling in past years among some of the more rank-and-file players that Paul tilts toward fellow superstars. The “Over-38 rule,” a change that allowed older star players to sign more lucrative deals, is pointed to as something negotiated in the most recent CBA that was directly designed to benefit Paul and his peers at the top of the league’s pay scale.

The union is similar to a locker room though. There doesn’t always have to be universal agreement. It’s about what’s best for the group. That is Paul’s focus, both on and off the court.

“Everybody’s not always going to like the way you do stuff,” Paul said. “But you’ve got to be OK with that. I’m OK with that.”

WITH SPARKLING, SOFT yellow sand between his toes and a white bandana tied around his head, Paul caught a weighted medicine ball and passed it back, the grains splattering around his feet.

Paul wasn’t on a beach in California anymore. He was in Oklahoma, on the dunes outside the Thunder’s practice gym as the facility reopened for voluntary workouts on May 22.

He was first tested for COVID-19, then joined a Thunder strength coach who wore blue rubber gloves during the medicine ball drill. Joining Paul was teammate Danilo Gallinari, an Italian player who has spent the shutdown in Oklahoma City.

Previously, the only interaction Paul had with his teammates was during Zoom calls every Monday. It took a few weeks after the league suspended play for Paul to grasp how much he missed the other guys on the Thunder.

Paul has a responsibility to think about all 450 NBA players, but he realized he was overlooking the 15 in his own locker room.

“I needed to figure out how to keep my team connected,” Paul said. “I realized I was putting so much time into the other stuff.”

Paul’s hope is if and when the season returns, the Thunder will maintain some of that chemistry that had turned them into the surprise of the Western Conference.

“The thing we’re trying to do now is just keep the dialogue going,” Paul said. “And if we do get back to playing, [we don’t] have to try and pick it up then.

“Like, ‘Yo, what up man, what you been doing for the last eight weeks?'”

There are a lot of ideas, opinions and counter-opinions about the season’s possible restart and its logistics. There is some momentum after the league’s call with general managers on Thursday and ahead of Friday’s board of governors meeting.

And while sorting out the 2019-20 season is the task at hand, league insiders say the bigger battle is still to come: what to do with the 2020-21 season, and the oncoming financial domino effects.

Paul’s term as union president ends in 2021, and at age 35 and already a decade into his NBPA leadership, another four-year term might not be in his plans.

Paul said he thought he fought his last major labor battle in 2017 when the players and league agreed on a new seven-year deal. Now, he is at the forefront of the fight over the future of the NBA — two months of uncertainty and unanswered questions.

But through every video conference, every phone call, every text, there is one thing Paul recognizes now more than ever.

“You see how much everybody loves to hoop — genuinely loves to hoop,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing from our players. Everybody just wants to play.”

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How the Minnesota Timberwolves are responding to the death of George Floyd



Across all those NBA trips he had taken as a young man with his father, Flip, all those years as a University of Minnesota player, a professional assistant and, now, coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ryan Saunders never considered the stresses attached to a grown man leaving his hotel for a run through a different city.

After George Floyd died in police custody this week in Minneapolis, Saunders listened to one of his African American colleagues describe how he must consider the possibility that fastening a cellphone to his side could give someone justification to believe he’s reaching for a gun.

“Waist or armband?” Saunders told ESPN on Wednesday night. “I never knew that was a thing. I do now.”

Yes, this was the conversation Saunders wanted to start with his Timberwolves. This has long been his town, his team, and Saunders wanted his players and staff to understand that he needed to be more than another white Minnesotan — another white American — on Instagram simply sickened by the killing of a defenseless black man.

“I am a white male in a position of leadership, and I don’t take lightly the fact that I have not experienced some of these things that our individual guys have had to experience,” Saunders told ESPN. “So I wanted to make sure we were listeners, that we could become more educated as people completely inexperienced in never getting the benefit of the doubt. I grew up in Minnesota and this hasn’t been sitting well with me for the past two days. Sometimes the silence can be deafening too. When we’re given opportunity to speak on what’s right, I think it’s important to do that.”

Saunders had connected with president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and assistant GM Joe Branch on Tuesday night, wanting to bring the team together on a Zoom call. The organization has had a speaker’s series every week in the pandemic — Bob Iger to Robin Roberts to J.J. Watt — but this was something far different.

“This was us responding to our players’ needs,” Rosas said.

Before the Timberwolves could engage a community that is reeling in response to the videotaped death of Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Saunders stopped talking and started listening on a call with most of his players and his basketball operations and coaching staff.

David Vanterpool, his African American associate head coach, still finds himself trembling when a police car pulls behind him on the street. He’s 47 years old. Following the deaths of Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery — a black man who was killed while jogging in Georgia in February — Vanterpool nodded along as his colleague told the story of the complexities of running with a cellphone on the road. “Alarming to some, but not strange at all to a lot of us,” Vanterpool told ESPN.

Over and over, there was a word repeated to describe the mood and tone of the players: confusion.

“There were three other cops,” Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley told ESPN later. “Why weren’t they helping him?”

Beasley, 23, and his girlfriend, Montana, have a story to tell too. She’s of Asian descent and wore a mask in public from the beginning of the pandemic in the United States. “People were looking at us weird,” Beasley said. “They were giving her the look, like, “Did you bring the virus here?

“It was really strange, and we did our best to stay in the house. We wanted to stay out of people’s way with everyone on edge.”

This was living post-NBA shutdown in Los Angeles, not Minneapolis. Eventually, they packed up, left L.A. and returned to Minnesota.

This has been an unsettling several months for a franchise that’s been almost entirely transformed since Rosas was hired a year ago. Only All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie remain; the rest of the roster arrived via free agency, the draft and as part of the biggest volume trades in NBA history.

Towns was on the call with his teammates on Wednesday, the way he had been during a virtual memorial service for his mother, Jackie, who died of the coronavirus in April.

Rosas delivered a speaker to the team on Wednesday: Tru Pettigrew, an expert in the area of connecting communities with police. “He gave us the ability to verbalize our feelings, address them and figure out a way to move forward,” Rosas said.

For now, the Timberwolves will express how they feel on social media. Eventually, they’ll get back to basketball, back into the community. Before they hung up, they were already preparing for how they could play a part.

“We wanted to allow them to get their feelings and emotions out on the table and then try to move past the pain and anger so we can impact some positive change,” Rosas told ESPN.

Beasley talked about how the young, rebuilding Wolves are searching to develop an identity. That comes with winning, yes, but this could be a part of it too. “We talked about never wanting to see this happen again, and how could we play a part in that,” Beasley said.

Saunders was on his cellphone on Wednesday night in Minneapolis, walking around and talking about his town. “I’m like my dad in this way,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t sit down and talk on the phone.”

He’s the son of the most beloved and accomplished coach in Timberwolves history, and that always made this coaching opportunity something much, much more than a job. For him, this coaching title comes with a civic responsibility. He wanted his players to understand that he was aching for the loss of a victim, George Floyd, for a community and country where this shouldn’t still be happening.

Understanding the plight of young African American men is a requirement to making the necessary connection to coach in the NBA, but he believes it is even more than that: It’s a requirement of an American citizen who wants this carnage to end.

“He wanted us to feel his presence on this, even if he isn’t African American,” Beasley said. “He didn’t try to force it. It was genuine.”

Saunders is a 34-year-old suburbanite who grew up shagging rebounds for Kevin Garnett at the Target Center. In many ways, his life has been privileged. He made sure his players and staff knew that too, because Minnesota is like most places in the United States. There’s Ryan Saunders’ reality — and a reality belonging to someone else.

And so, the son of Minneapolis and Flip, the coach of these Minnesota Timberwolves, said: “That’s especially important for someone who looks like me.”

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