EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - The University of Evansville lost one of its legendary sports icons as Basketball Hall of Famer and long-time Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan died Friday morning at the age of 78.
In the fallout of his tragic passing, several prominent members of the Evansville sporting community spoke up to reflect on Sloan’s prestigious career, as well as the amount of influence he’s had on the Tri-State area as a whole.
“Jerry Sloan is the reason UE basketball is on the map,” WFIE broadcaster Mike Blake said.
“His legacy will live on and he touched so many lives,” former UE men’s basketball player Scott Shreffler said.
“I kind of looked up to him,” former Miami Dolphins quarterback and Evansville native Bob Griese said. “We would go to his games or watch games on TV.”
The Illinois native led the Aces to back-to-back NCAA Division II national championships in 1964 and 1965, with the latter team accomplishing the historic feat of capping off an undefeated season at 29-0.
“He was the greatest player on UE’s greatest teams ever,” Blake said. “He was a great teammate. He was a fan favorite because he gave it his all. He wasn’t the superstar. He didn’t score a lot. He certainly was a key scorer for the national championship teams at UE, but as a pro he was a solid, no-nonsense, very good, knowledgeable pro player.”
Sloan guided the Aces to a 76-9 record over the course of his three collegiate seasons. The three-time All-American graduated from UE with 1,320 points and 1,053 rebounds, which is third-most in school history.
He ultimately played 11 seasons in the NBA, primarily with the Chicago Bulls. Sloan averaged 14 points and 7.4 rebounds throughout his professional career. He was named a two-time NBA all-star and a four-time member of the league’s all-defensive team.
After his retirement, Sloan left his everlasting mark on the game of basketball through his time in the coaching ranks. He worked his way up the ladder as a scout and an assistant coach before eventually landing the head coaching job with the Utah Jazz in 1988.
Sloan spent 23 seasons with the Jazz, leading the franchise to 16 straight playoff appearances and two consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both times to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
He officially retired from coaching in 2011. This was two years after his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Despite spending so much time in the pros, the Hall-of-Famer never forgot his Tri-State roots.
“He was a great basketball player and a great individual,” Griese said.
“He was Mr. Bull at Chicago and you don’t get named that for no reason,” Shreffler said. “He was the first jersey retired there, which is incredible, but as tough as he was on the court, as soon as he crossed the lines away from the court, he was the most kind and giving person.”
Sloan won 1,223 games during his NBA coaching career. He’s currently ranked fourth on the league’s all-time wins list.