You’ll be hard-pressed to find an NBA lifer quite like Jerry Sloan. From suiting up for the Baltimore Bullets to coaching the Utah Jazz, he dedicated his entire life to the game of basketball. Before he passed away on May 22, he touched so many lives and coached great players like Karl Malone and John Stockton.
While Sloan came up short in collecting championship trophies, he amassed an impressive arsenal of tractors. Yet, the John Deere enthusiast trimmed down his 70-tractor lineup thanks to a thief.
Jerry Sloan was a star for the Chicago Bulls
Before he roamed the sidelines as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history, Jerry Sloan made his mark as a defensive stalwart for the Chicago Bulls. He entered the NBA as the fourth overall pick in the 1965 NBA draft by the Baltimore Bullets, who later relocated to Washington. After just one year, the Bullets traded him to the newly-formed Bulls.
That transaction proved to be the best thing for Sloan’s playing career. The 6-foot-5, 195-pounder earned the nickname “The Original Bull” due to his tenacious defense. In his first year in Chicago, Sloan earned his first of two NBA All-Star selections after averaging 17.4 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Though he carved out a reputation as a defensive menace, the Illinois native also provided plenty of punch on offense. In his 11-year playing career, Sloan averaged 14.0 points to go along with 7.4 rebounds. He shot 42.7 percent from the field and 72.2 percent from the free-throw line. Chicago missed the playoffs just twice in Jerry Sloan’s 10-year Bulls career. Unfortunately, the Bulls never advanced to the NBA Finals in any of their eight playoff runs.
Becoming a coaching legend with the Utah Jazz
Once his playing days ended, Jerry Sloan naturally transitioned to a coaching role. He spent one year as an assistant coach for the Bulls before taking over head coaching duties in 1979. However, Sloan’s first foray didn’t go so well. The former Bulls star went just 94-121, including an ugly 19-32 record in 1981-82.
Despite his disappointing run in Chicago, Sloan made the most of his second chance. After spending four years as an assistant, he took over as the head coach of the Utah Jazz in 1988. He would never coach for another franchise.
For more than two decades, Sloan carved out a legacy as one of the best coaches in NBA history. Incredibly, he led the Jazz to 15 consecutive postseason berths. During his tenure, Utah posted a losing record just once (2004-05) and routinely finished near the top of the Western Conference. Unfortunately, just as he did as a player, Jerry Sloan came up short in his NBA title quest. Ironically, the same Bulls franchise that Sloan helped put on the map defeated the Jazz in back-to-back NBA Finals, as highlighted on The Last Dance.
A thief inspired Sloan to sell his impressive tractor collection
Jerry Sloan finally stepped away from the game of basketball in 2011. He had been the longest-tenured head coach in any major American sport despite never winning an NBA title. Though he never collected championship rings, the coaching legend did assemble quite an impressive fleet of tractors. But once he retired, he ended up selling off most of his 70-unit collection after a thief stole his 35-year-old Allis Chalmers tractor, according to Desert News.
The tractor wasn’t expensive, valued at only around $5,000. But it got him thinking about the stuff he had accumulated; thinking about clutter.
“I’m trying to simplify,” Sloan said Tuesday.
Ultimately, the antique collector who famously wore John Deere hats did return to the Jazz as an adviser and scouting consultant in 2013. Just three years later, Jerry Sloan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. He sadly passed away on May 22, but not before leaving behind an incredible NBA legacy as both a player and a coach.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference