The Jazz's Jerry Sloan is not only the NBA's longest-tenured coach but also its resident expert on antique stores and yard sales. "I don't know why, but I've just always enjoyed collecting things," says Sloan, who has browsed through almost every secondhand shop in Salt Lake City during the last nine years. "Pottery, dolls, toys, marbles, tractors—I collect them all."
Sloan, 55, is too modest to mention the one other thing he has been pretty busy collecting: wins. With a 567-358 record over his 12-year coaching career, including a 1979-82 stint with the Bulls, Sloan ranks 14th in career victories. Since taking over for Frank Layden in 1988, he has led Utah to eight 50-win seasons and three trips to the Western Conference finals. This year he has guided the Jazz to a 57-17 record, best in the West at week's end, thus positioning the team to gain the home court advantage through the opening three rounds of the playoffs for the first time.
"Jerry's great at bringing intensity to his team, having players that respond to him, having a very consistent offense," says Chicago coach Phil Jackson. "The Jazz do a lot of things that although they are quite routine and similar, still have the twists and innovations that enable them to win close games."
Yet for all his success, Sloan causes about as much stir as a Bee Gees record at a flea market. " Jerry Sloan is the Rodney Dangerfield of NBA coaches," says Layden, who now serves as the Jazz's president. "He should be Coach of the Year, except nobody knows who he is."
Sloan's low-key style might not win him awards, but it has helped him to gain an even rarer treasure: goodwill throughout the NBA. Sloan is well-liked because he's one of the league's most down-to-earth figures, a blue-collar guy who has been married 34 years to his high school sweetheart, wears John Deere caps and knows all the Delia Center ushers by their first names. "One of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet," says Utah's Dream Team forward, Karl Malone.
He's also the league's best-known purchaser of curios large and small. Sloan began collecting things, pottery mostly, during his playing days with the Bulls, from 1966-67 to 75-76. Before long he and his wife, Bobbye, were scouring antique stores in every NBA city, finding overlooked treasures amid the dusty boxes. Today the couple has amassed thousands of items, from rare china to furniture to baseball cards, most of which they store at their houses in Salt Lake City and in McLeansboro, Ill. "We're like Sanford and Son," says Sloan. "Last year I had to build a shed just to have some place to put all the junk."
Though he downplays his collection, Sloan does admit to finding the occasional prize. While on a road trip to Buffalo with the Bulls, he came across a vase in an antique shop. "I asked the guy how much he wanted for it, and he said, 'Twelve dollars,' " Sloan says with a chuckle. "I almost ripped my pocket off getting the money." Today the vase is valued at around $15,000.
For those who saw Sloan play during his heyday with Chicago, the image of him delicately handling a piece of pottery is hard to conjure up. During an 11-year career in which he made two All-Star appearances, Sloan, a 6'5" guard, was such a fierce competitor and defensive terror that teammates called him the Gestapo and the Human Chain Saw. He helped propel the Bulls to four 50-win seasons in the early '70s, but his intensity was never enough to carry them past the conference finals.
"He said he never had to feel guilty after a game," says Denver coach Dick Motta, who guided the Bulls from 1968-69 to '75-76. "He'd go home and sleep like a baby, no matter the outcome. But before a game, he wouldn't go out and shoot. He'd sit in the locker room getting mad at the enemy, which was whoever he was playing that night."
As coach of the Jazz, Sloan has been at times both that careful collector and that hard-nosed competitor. During games he'll often stand silently beside the bench, arms folded, as calm as an appraiser. At other times he shows flashes of temper. In February, for instance, he gave reserve forward Chris Morris the heave-ho early in the fourth quarter after the two had exchanged words on the bench. But a few days later Morris could be seen in the Jazz locker room with his arm around Sloan. "Jerry's a competitive guy, but he's not a ruthless tyrant," says All-Star guard John Stockton. "He'll get in our face when he needs to, but when we get it, we know it's because we deserved it."