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February 11, 2011

The Coach - Part II

The Bulls. Always the Bulls.

In the end it was the team he played for, ruined his knee for, and twice represented as an all-star that defeated Jerry Sloan. He coached them too, is in fact one of four Bulls to have his number retired, and was nicknamed at one point "The Original Bull". Throw in the two losses in the NBA finals and it's fitting I suppose that Chicago would be the team that dealt him his final and decisive loss. Sports are predictable when it comes to these types of things, like the later seasons of long-running TV shows. Karma, irony, whatever you chalk the weird coincidence up to, it just makes sense. Then once you consider that the Bulls are Jerry's home town team, and that Deron Williams -- who held the key role in Sloan's resignation -- played his college ball for Illinois, the 'coincidence' becomes even biblical. Christ said it first: "No prophet is accepted in his own country."

Sloan will be forever accepted in my country. The man with the platinum hair, golden vocals, and gray humor is the only coach I've ever known, and for that matter, the only one I've wanted to know. Phil Johnson, Sloan's right hand man, merits a mention here for standing by his coach and going down in tandem with his teammate. He joins the illustrious ranks of unheralded sidekicks such as George Hincapie, Lance Reynolds, and Neville Longbottom.

Click here to read why I feel Sloan was the NBA's best coach

The news of the duo's retirement hasn't gone over well. Not only is Utah in a state of mourning, but not surprisingly Stockton, California -- a town named after Sloan's greatest disciple -- has been dubbed America's most miserable city in the wake of the aftermath.

While Jazz fans will think fondly of Sloan's loyalty and consistency, the rest of the world will remember him for one thing - his lack of a championship. It is with regards to this matter that I must speak up for my coach.

The Bulls. Always the Bulls.

Sure, it was 12 and a half years ago, but pain such as the Jazz experienced is not easily forgotten. It was round two of Utah versus Chicago in the NBA Finals. The Bulls had won the year before, but the rematch seemed to favor Utah with playoff experience and home court advantage on the Jazz's side. It came down to the sixth game in which Michael Jordan made the famous game-winning jumper over Bryan Russell. But long before that shot fell, two other shots that were made by officials determined the game.

The first came courtesy of Jazz guard Howard Eisley, who made a three point shot as the 24-second clock expired. Referee Dick Bavetta (a fitting first name) waved off the basket, ruling it too late despite the fact that the ball was four feet out of Eisley's hands with a second remaining on the clock. Just like that, three points were vaporized from the Jazz scoreboard.

Later in the game an identical situation presented itself with Bulls guard Ron Harper, who tossed up a 15-footer as the clock was ticking down. Amazingly, Harper's shot was allowed to stand despite not being released before the clock expired. Just like that, two points were gifted to the Chicago scoreboard.

In a game that was decided by one point, a five point bonus was unfairly awarded to the defending champions. Keep in mind these were not judgment calls, like a blocking or charging foul. These were a pair of calls requiring only eyesight to be made correctly, and yet they were still called wrong. Perhaps no championship game has ever been so soiled by officiating error. True, Sloan never won a title. Not surprising considering he had to go up against the greatest player of all-time and a disabled officiating crew. You see Jordan beat the Jazz the first time around, but in the second battle a different type of bull was the deciding factor.

You want video proof of my claim? Fast forward to the 7 minute mark of this clip to see Eisley's three, and watch from the beginning of this clip til at least the 1:50 mark for Harper's shot and announcer commentary.

You want printed proof? The calls were so egregious that following the game Bavetta apologized to Jerry Sloan. Yes, you read that correctly. They were so bad that the head ref apologized. "Sorry if I made some mistakes during the game, and good luck to you," is how Jerry recalls Bavetta's act of penance.

You want 3rd party proof? As the Bulls rushed the court to celebrate their victory over Utah, NBC announcer Bob Costas said, "When you lose by this narrow a margin there are so many things to look back on, but the Howard Eisley three that was taken away will eat at (the Jazz) all Summer long."

Costas was wrong about one part of that statement of course. That call has eaten away at me for much longer than one mere summer. But not so with Jerry, and it is in this that perhaps Sloan's greatest victory is seen.

When asked in retrospect about what could have happened with the officiating and the game in general, Sloan responded, "You could drive yourself crazy with stuff like that. So what do you do about it? You go on about your business ... That's part of life, I guess. You have to live with it and go on. You're not gonna change it."

When further asked about Bavetta's apology for the missed calls, Sloan said, "He felt like he made a mistake, and that's fine. I'll live with that, I've made mistakes myself. Plenty of them."

It's apparent to all that Sloan made no mistake in the way he handled this situation. A lesser man would have never overcome the fact that he was screwed out of his sport's most prestigious prize. In a league that has seen one coach complain about something as absurd as an opposing mascot affecting his players, Sloan accepted his cross like a class act. So in reality, Jerry accomplished the hardest thing in all of sports: no, not winning a championship, but losing one -- in the most heinous way possible -- and still being man enough to get over it.

1 comment:

  1. This is mom using Alison's profile. I watched the press conference of Jerry Sloan's resignation. He was a class-act all the way as you have very skillfully expressed in your blog today. You have a great talent. You should send this to a newspaper.