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Jerry Sloan remembered by fellow coaches Don Nelson, Phil Jackson, Lenny Wilkens

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Don Nelson, the winningest coach in NBA history, had just finished a stroll on the beach in his beloved Hawaii on Friday when a reporter informed him that his coaching contemporary Jerry Sloan had died from complications of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia at age 78.

“Oh, he was a dear friend,” Nelson told ESPN. “Even if he did fight me the first time we ever met.”

Nelson was a player with the Boston Celtics when the team traveled for a game against Sloan’s Chicago Bulls at Chicago Stadium on Nov. 8, 1966. Nelson was bombing back on defense, trying to catch a streaking Sloan, when Sloan stopped suddenly, causing the two players to collide violently.

“He set me up,” Nellie recalled with a laugh. “He knew I had no choice but to run over him. And then, even though he got the call, he got up and tried to hit me.”

Nelson said he and Sloan each took a couple of wild swings at each other that didn’t connect. They were quickly separated by officials and teammates.

“Back then, they didn’t throw you out of the game,” Nellie said, “so we kept on playing. And Jerry was fine. That’s how he was. He was a real tough guy, but he’d have his say and move on.”

Though Sloan logged 11 rugged seasons as an NBA player from 1965 to 1976, he was best known for his 26-year stint as an NBA coach, with 23 of those seasons with the Utah Jazz.

In Salt Lake City, he instituted a no-nonsense, physical brand of basketball that enabled the Jazz to advance to the Finals in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998. Both times, his team — led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, whose personalities mirrored that of their taciturn coach — was thwarted by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Even though Sloan never won a championship — and, incredibly, was never named NBA Coach of the Year — George Karl said he was one of the most gifted coaches he has ever seen.

“I’d put Jerry as one of the top three or four all time I’ve ever faced,” said Karl, who sits two spots behind Sloan at No. 6 on the all-time coaching wins list. “His teams were really difficult to play against. They were very tough-minded, very team-oriented.

“Jerry would not tolerate a lot of the NBA bulls— that goes on. He was demanding, but respectful. Every Utah Jazz player I ever spoke to had nothing but great things to say about him.”

Sloan was raised in Gobbler’s Knob, Illinois, the youngest of 10 children. When Sloan was only 4, his father died. He would rise before the sun to complete his chores on the family farm, then walk more than two miles to school. Those who knew him said he attributed the work ethic that served him well throughout his NBA career to his hardscrabble upbringing.

“Jerry was a farmer at heart,” Phil Jackson said in a text message. “We all enjoyed his fire and his sportsmanship … both ends of the coaching spectrum.”

Sloan ran a disciplined franchise and would not tolerate excuses or dissent. He expected his players to exhibit the same grit that was his trademark. In 2006, when asked if he needed to be patient with his youngest player, 19-year-old C.J. Miles, Sloan retorted, “I don’t care if he’s 19 or 30. If he’s going to be on the floor in the NBA, he’s got to be able to step up and get after it. We can’t put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next night. It’s just the way it is.”

Sloan also exhibited ferocious loyalty to his players. So, when Kenyon Martin leveled Malone in the open floor, it wasn’t Malone who threatened to fight him — it was Sloan.

Consider the words of former Jazz president and coach Frank Layden, who once relayed this gem to author Michael Lewis: “Nobody fights with Jerry because you know the price would be too high. You might come out the winner, at his age. You might even lick him. But you’d lose an eye, an arm, your testicles, in the process.”

Sloan’s wrath was not reserved strictly for opponents. If he felt one of his players was whistled via a phantom call, he had no qualms about vociferously challenging the referee who made the decision, with some choice words to illustrate his point. In 2003, he was even suspended seven games for shoving referee Courtney Kirkland in the chest.

Former NBA official Joey Crawford said he warned younger refs that if they decided to slap Sloan with a technical, they should immediately turn and walk away to defuse the situation.

“But here’s the wonderful thing about Jerry,” Crawford said. “He’d get mad, but you could go back at him and say a lot of stuff to him, and he would never ever rat you out. You could even curse him out, but he was never going to call the league office the next morning to complain, like some other coaches would.

“I had a helluva lot of respect for the man. We all did.”

Lenny Wilkens said he was exposed to a much softer side of Sloan when Wilkens chose him to be part of his staff for the 1996 Summer Olympics. At the time, he and Sloan were not particularly close, but Wilkens wanted him because of his respect for the way Sloan approached the game and the attention he commanded from players.

“I liked his competitive spirit,” said Wilkens, No. 2 on the all-time coaching wins list. “His teams were always so prepared, and he wasn’t going to let you do what you wanted to do. We both believed defense could influence a game.

“And, like me, he wasn’t about to let you walk to the basket. That’s not how we were raised.”

During their travels, Wilkens came to appreciate Sloan’s wry sense of humor and passion for the game. His face softened when he spoke of his family. His devotion to his players was also evident.

“He had a great influence on our team,” Wilkens said. “He’s one of those people who had instant credibility on the court.”

Four years later, Sloan was bypassed as Wilkens’ successor for the 2000 Olympics, a slight that still bothers Wilkens.

“I was very disappointed for him,” he said, “and I let the people on the Olympic committee know about it. It wasn’t right. We did a great job [in ’96] and Jerry was a big part of it.”

Karl said while Sloan earned attention for his defensive schemes, he was just as enamored with Sloan’s offensive sets.

“Our first couple of years when I was in Seattle, we doubled Malone and we doubled Stockton, and they figured out how to destroy us,” said Karl, who went head-to-head with Sloan-coached teams 82 times, fourth most behind Rick Adelman, Nelson and Jackson. “He kept it simple, but what he drew up was rock-solid, and his players followed his lead.

“I loved the battles with Jerry. They were physical, but [the Jazz] played as a team and understood that you had to stick together in competition.

“Jerry demanded that. He demanded that his players be good teammates.”

Sloan retired in 2011 third all time in coaching wins and now sits at fourth. The man who since passed him for third place, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, released a statement Friday, lauding Sloan as “genuine and true.”

“And that is rare,” Popovich said. “He was a mentor for me from afar until I got to know him. A man who suffered no fools, he possessed a humor, often disguised, and had a heart as big as the prairie.”

Nelson said behind Sloan’s gruffness was a gentle, fun-loving, even mischievous man. In their later years, he said, the opposing coaches were not above sneaking out for a beer or two when their teams were in the same town.

“I think Jerry may have been the most competitive guy I ever coached against,” Nelson said. “But when the game was over, it was over. I remember talking to him when he was getting ready to retire. He was looking forward to going back to his farm. He loved driving the fields on his tractor.”

Though Sloan never raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy, he appreciated his basketball journey, Wilkens said.

“He wasn’t the kind of guy to sit and cry about what he did and didn’t do,” Wilkens said. “He loved the game. That was enough.

“And there’s no question the game loved him back.”



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Knicks explain lack of public comment in email to MSG employees

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NEW YORK — An internal email was sent out to Madison Square Garden employees on Monday addressing the lack of a public statement regarding the outrage following the death of George Floyd.

“We know that some of you have asked about whether our company is going to make a public statement about the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer,” the email, which was obtained by ESPN, began. “I want you to know, I realize the importance of this issue. Therefore, I want you to understand our internal position.

“This is a turbulent time in our country. The coronavirus and civil unrest have taken their toll on our way of life. We at Madison Square Garden stand by our values of respect and peaceful workplace. We always will.

“As companies in the business of sports and entertainment, however, we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters.”

The Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs were the only NBA teams to have not made public statements following Floyd’s death, as of 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday. Several NBA players — including Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. — have participated in protests that have erupted around the country. And Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been a steady voice in recent years for social change.

Floyd, who was black, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“What we say to each other matters,” the email said. “How we treat each other matters. And that’s what will get us through this difficult time.”

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Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young speaks at peaceful protest in Oklahoma

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NORMAN, Okla. — NBA All-Star Trae Young spoke at a peaceful protest of racial injustice and police brutality in his hometown on Monday.

Young, the former University of Oklahoma star who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, briefly addressed several hundred people at Andrews Park about the deaths of George Floyd and others.

“I know this country’s in a messed up place right now,” he said. “And for me, I just think it’s important that we all stick together and we stand up for what’s right. It’s not just going to take just me. It’s not just going to take just you. It’s all of us coming together and doing this as a collective unit.”

Floyd, a black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and saying that he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the country, some of which became violent.

Norman mayor Breea Clark and police chief Kevin Foster were among the other speakers at the Norman rally.

Young acknowledged that he doesn’t often speak out on social issues and credited his sister, Caitlyn, for helping him come out of his shell. At one point, Young held up a “Black Lives Matter” sign.

“I’m not used to doing this,” he said. “I’m not very open about what I see or the things that go on in this world very often, but for me, even though I’m just 21 years old, I feel that it was necessary. This is bigger than me, and I feel like this is a big step in the right direction.”

Young’s NBA city of Atlanta has been rocked by protests, fires and looting. He said after he left the stage that he has mixed feelings about those protests.

“I play in Atlanta, a black cultured city where people are looting there and it’s messing up the city,” he said. “So I see both sides. You can protest the right way and peacefully, which I believe it should be, but I also see where it hasn’t worked.”

He believes better days are ahead.

“I feel like justice will be served and changes will be made if we all come together,” he said. “This is us doing it. This is the first step.”

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Stephen Jackson ’embracing’ new role as vocal leader after friend George Floyd’s death

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When NBA journeyman Stephen Jackson met George Floyd — a 6-foot-6 former basketball player himself — for the first time, the resemblance between the two was so striking that both figured they might be related.

“The first thing we both say: ‘Man, who’s your dad?'” Jackson told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated on Monday, one week to the day since Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. “And just from that, from looking alike and from that day forward, we just had a bond; we became tight.”

The chance encounter through a mutual friend years ago in Houston led to a new nickname for Floyd — “twin” — and later to a new calling for Jackson as a vocal leader for the black community after speaking at a rally for Floyd in the Twin Cities last week.

“How did I get this role?” Jackson said in an interview with Spears on Instagram Live. “Like, I’m honest with you, I did not expect to have the role and to have so many people waiting to see what I have to say and what’s the next move. Like, I didn’t ask to be in this position, but I’m embracing it. I’m embracing it.”

Jackson, who retired in 2014 after playing 14 seasons in the league and winning a ring with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, has used his voice to transition to being a co-host of the popular podcast “All the Smoke” with Matt Barnes on Showtime. But now he finds himself using that voice for social change.

“Right now, I’m 10 toes down and my only purpose is getting justice and being with these people and trying to be a good leader,” Jackson said, noting his unexpected visit to Minnesota to support Floyd’s family has stretched to five days.

In taking up the mantle as he’s had, Jackson has advice for those listening who want direction on how to act from here.

First, Jackson said, protesting peacefully is paramount — and that means being cognizant while demonstrating that there may people out there trying to manipulate those protests to devolve into riots and looting.

“We got to be smarter and don’t fall for the trick bag,” Jackson said. “Right now — a perfect example: In Atlanta, there’s no construction in downtown Atlanta. I live in Atlanta. But at midnight, you see a pallet of bricks — just loose bricks, sitting in the middle of downtown, for people to throw. Why is that there?”

The peaceful protests are meant to highlight the public policy changes that are necessary to cure the systematic society ills that served as the backdrop to a man like Floyd ending up dead after being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, Jackson said.

Secondly, Jackson said, there needs to be changes to those who serve as elected officials.

“We got to vote,” Jackson said. “I’m not just talking about the President. I’m talking about the local city council; I’m talking about your police chief, your fire chief. We need to vote for all that type of stuff, because all that stuff’s going matter at the end. And what we’re doing now as far as protesting everywhere around the world — we got to use that same energy when it’s time to vote.”

Jackson said he’s heard from NBA figures from Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, to commissioner Adam Silver, to Golden State Warriors coaches Steve Kerr and Mike Brown supporting his efforts.

He is urging his followers to reach out to those they know who are being marginalized with similar support.

“I’ve been holding other races accountable,” he said. “Like, you can’t say you love me and not be standing here on the side of me. Them days is over with. You can’t say you love the way I play basketball and make jump shots and win championships, and not stand on the side of me and support me when I need you the most.”

Jackson spoke to The Undefeated shortly after an independent autopsy, performed by medical examiner Michael Baden at the request of Floyd’s family, determined his cause of death was asphyxia compression of the neck and back. Baden’s findings refute a state medical examiner’s opinion included in Chauvin’s criminal complaint that stated Floyd died because of the combined effects of being restrained, potential intoxicants in his system and underlying health issues — not strangulation.

Chauvin was arrested last week and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other police officers involved in the arrest — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas K. Lane — were fired but have yet to have any criminal charges levied against them.

“What I already knew — he was murdered,” Jackson said. “Pressure on his neck. We all knew he was murdered. See, the only people that’s protecting (Chauvin) act like they don’t have common sense. … The (independent) autopsy is telling the truth of what we already knew: he was murdered.”

Jackson said he “expected” the other officers to remain free but is hopeful that’s not the case.

“Coming into this, I’ve seen so many situations not pan out right,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen the impossible happen also. And I think this is that situation. I think this (is) going to be the change. My brother’s death is going to be change. I think we’re going to get convictions for all of them. I think they’re drawing it out right now because this is the typical system. That’s why we got to change the rules — they look out for each other. They try their best to look out for each other. So, this is expected by me.

“But we’re going to fight. This is a marathon. And we’re going to continue this fight and we’re going to outfight them. We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep this thing going they’re going to get tired of hearing about George Floyd. They’re going to get tired of hearing his name.”

Jackson said the events of the last week have changed him for good.

“I’m telling you — I came (to Minneapolis) as a different person,” Jackson stated. “I’m going to be here. I’m in for the long haul. … I didn’t ask for this role. I embraced it and people are looking to be to led. So I got to do it.”

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