Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Unknown Hero

I had hoped that I would never have to write this column. In fact, I never actually thought that I would. Never crossed my mind. But alas, the end of an era has come.

Last Thursday, February 10th, while sitting at my desk at work, I received a text message from my friend, The Grey Nathan shortly after 12:00 noon. It said something to the effect of "An NBA journalist (he'll have to remind me which one. Possibly John Schuman?) is tweeting that Jerry Sloan is resigning. I thought he just signed an extension" Instant confusion. Upon first reading, I thought it said re-signing. That wasn't news to me. I knew that he had just signed a one year extension the week before, as is customary for Sloan. So I texted back, "That doesn't make sense. I already know that he signed an extension." To clarify my newfound confusion, I turned to Google and typed in Jerry Sloan. Instantly news posts from Deseret News and Washington Post appeared announcing that Sloan was about to announce his resignation that day.

At that moment I felt a feeling that I never remembered feeling at any other moment in my life. Shock, fear, confusion, and sadness all rolled into one. What does this mean? Where did this come from? Why? I had questions to which there were yet no answers. The online newspaper articles were vague but all confirmed one thing: Sloan was done and a press conference to officially announce it was scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon. I could not focus on anything but the Utah Jazz, and their uncertain future, between the hours of 12:30 and 3:00. Sorry, boss, for my 2 and a half hours of lost productivity. I still worked, but my mind wasn't in it. I even pushed my lunch hour back from 1:00 to 3:00 so that I could hopefully tune in. Much to my dismay, the sound is disabled on work computers for security resons. Even the headphone jack didn't play sound when plugged in. I frantically changed channels on the lunchroom TV between the 3 sports channels. Nothing but poker and NFL montages. Do you not realize what is happening right now?? Even my iPod Touch couldn't stream the press conference because apparently iPod's don't work with streaming video (one more reason I don't like Steve Jobs' manipulative ways). After stressing for half an hour, I finally gave up and settled on twitter updates that feed into google when I searched "Jerry Sloan." Better than nothing, I guess.
The closest I ever got to Jerry Sloan
The press conference didn't teach me much more that I didn't already know or hadn't already guessed or figured out. Once I heard that assistant coach Phil Johnson was ALSO resigning, I knew that assitant Tyrone Corbin would be named Head Coach. I just wanted to know WHY. In Sloan's words, "My time is up and it's time for me to move on." Really? Last night it was still your time but today that time is up? I know you're a very strong-willed person but your time seriously ended that quickly? A lot of people, knowing my infatuation with the Utah Jazz, have asked me why Jerry Sloan quit. My answer is always the same, "He was just done." Was his strained relationship with Deron Williams a factor? Of course. Was the fact that he is 68 years old a factor? Yep. Was the fact that he has been in the same position for 23 a factor? Definitely. It was all of the above.

When I think about the situation, I'm not surprised but I guess I never took the time to think about the situation. Sloan began coaching the Jazz before my 4th birthday. I'm now 26. I have never known the Jazz without him nor did I know it was possible to have a Jerry-less Jazz. He was their rock and everyone assumed that he would always be there. Why would we think differently? I felt weird for a few days. I still feel a little weird. Life is different. The Jazz are different. How can they be different? They've never been different. Maybe that's why I liked them; I could wake up every morning and know what to expect. I don't know what to expect anymore. I'd like to think that this is a change that they needed but only time will tell.

My closest encounter with Jerry Sloan was actually had by my brother in December 2010 when he was able to meet him and get his signature on our Jazz ball. Their conversation went like this:
"Hey Sloan, can you sign my ball?"
"Of course! Thanks so much for supporting the team and coming to our games."
What a perfect way for Sloan to change his young Jazz fans from Sloan-fearing (he looks pretty strict, stern and "scary" on TV) to Sloan-loving.

I didn't realize what impact Jerry had on my life. To use one of the most overused clichés of all time, "You don't know what you got 'til it's gone." I didn't even know that he meant anything to me. I thought he was just the coach of the Utah Jazz, my favorite team. I tried for days to put into words how I felt/feel. At first, I described it as losing a grandfather. But I've never lost a grandfather and don't know how that feels (The Grey Nathan hopes that when I do, it feels like when Jerry Sloan resigned). It is losing someone I have no personal relationship with but whom I respect and admire from a distance. I've finally come up with my most reasonable comparison. If you're not a religious person, then try to imagine along with me. I would compare it to the feeling of when a religious leader passes on. For Catholics, when the Pope dies, this is how it must feel. For Mormons, when the prophet dies, this is how it must feel. For Tibetan Buddhists, when the Dalai Lama dies, this is how it must feel. For Utah Jazz fans, when Jerry Sloan retires this IS how it feels.

To my formerly unknown hero, thank you for everything you've done.

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