WHAT DID I LEARN FROM JERRY SLOAN?

May 26, 2020
by Michael Jeppesen

It was back, way back in 1994. I was 24 years old, and he was 51, my age now.

I had a weekend gig as a DJ at Utah’s classic rock station, Z-93.

A friend of mine named Bob McClellan was managing the Olympus Cafe at what was then Best Western Olympus hotel on 600 South in downtown Salt Lake City.

One day Bob and I were visiting about work and he told me that Jerry Sloan, the head coach for the Utah jazz came in multiple times per week for breakfast at his restaurant. Bob was an incredibly affable guy. It would have been impossible for Jerry and Bob to not hit it off. Over the course of years, and lots of sunny side up eggs, they became friends.

I encouraged Bob to ask Jerry to do a testimonial for the Olympus Cafe. Of course Jerry being the kind of guy he was said yes, even though he abhorred the limelight.

In addition to being a radio DJ I had a background as a production director at a station in Boise, Idaho.  I told Bob I would be happy to record Mr. Sloan’s voice over. We set up a time for Mr. Sloan to come to the studio and record a couple of spots.

It’s always shocking at my height of five foot ten to meet someone as tall as Jerry Sloan. I remember introducing myself, shaking his hand, and thinking, holy moly this dude has giant hands. And this is where things got a little ignorant on my part. Jerry seemed a little uncomfortable at the prospect of being in the recording studio, so I was doing my best to make small talk and help him feel more at ease. Of course we talked about breakfast at Olympus Cafe, and our mutual friend Bob, but somewhere I slipped in the conversation the following question: “So Mr. Sloan, did you play professional basketball?” Idiotic, right? Well, without missing a beat Jerry said “Yeah I played a little bit.” And it wasn’t the kind of sarcastic response with indignance you might expect from such a ridiculous question. While I was naively ignorant of his amazing career with the Chicago Bulls, he was beyond humble. We all remember Jerry for his work ethic, persistence, drive, and sometimes passionate manner on the sidelines of the basketball court. The Jerry Sloan I briefly got to know was as gentle as a teddy bear, kind,  generous, and acted with incredible humility.

It wasn’t until days later after the recording session that I was mentioning to someone I had recorded a couple of commercials with Jerry Sloan. I told them of the ensuing conversation. When I mentioned my faux pas question it elicited huge laughter and then shear disdain for my ignorance.

But Jerry had no arrogance, or false pride whatsoever. Obviously humility is one trait his players knew him for, as he was always giving the credit to them or the front office. He would never take the credit for himself. He had 18 winning seasons of 23 with the Utah Jazz and over twelve hundred victories. Through all of that success he just kept his head down, and stay focused on his passion.  I think one of my mom’s favorite expressions sums up Jerry Sloan to a tee. She would always say ” just suit up and show up”. Little fanfare great results that’s exactly what Jerry Sloan did in his 78 years of life Godspeed Mr. Sloan.