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Friday, February 11, 2011

Jerry Sloan's midwest virtues

The news today of Jerry's Sloan resignation as coach of the Utah Jazz produces in me more than just praise for Sloan's outstanding work as Jazz coach, work that together with his great career with the Bulls earned him the Hall of Fame, but many childhood reflections. My hometown of Northbrook, IL happened to be where Sloan settled to raise his family. When I was in junior high, Jerry was the head coach of the Bulls and his son Brian was the star of my school's basketball team. I will never forget the buzz in the air in those occasional games where Jerry was able to attend. Everyone played a little harder and dived more loose balls knowing that the ultimate tough guy, Jerry Sloan, was in the house. Many of my friends and I spent a week each summer at Sloan's summer camp at the campus of Aurora College and I know I am not alone in seeing those weeks as some of the best of my childhood.

But beyond these personal memories, I want to call attention to something not mentioned in the national media reports honoring Sloan today. When I was in high school Coach Sloan was fired as the Bulls coach. It was a bitter pill to swallow for all Chicagoans who so admired his extraordinary work ethic as a player and a coach, but it was a bit more bitter for us kids at Glenbrook North because with his firing Coach Sloan decided to move back to his hometown of Mcleansboro, IL. All of a sudden our friend and star, Brian Sloan, was leaving our school. Brian would go on to be player of the year in Illinois his senior year, and later won a national championship at Indiana University. But what I most remember now about that decision to move is what it says about the character of Jerry Sloan and the virtues of small town America. For a Chicago boy, Mcleansboro is a dusty old small town in the middle of nowhere. Why did he want to take his family there? But I can see now as a parent that he wanted his children to experience the America that had shaped him. He wanted his kids to be around people that knew his daddy not for being a great coach or player, but for being the kid that lived down the street and went to their schools. He wanted his kids grounded in virtues that reached beyond fame and fortune. I admire that now even though I still wonder how good our high school team might have been with Brian Sloan at center!!

All the best to you in a well earned retirement, Jerry! You remain Chicago's hero!!

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