Home and Away
At the end of the long driveway leading to Jerry Sloan’s home outside the small town of McLeansboro, Ill., is a lone basketball hoop, but don’t expect to find this former University of Evansville and Chicago Bulls star shooting around outside when the sun sets and summer temperatures mellow. He’s likely enjoying the evening on his back porch, listening to the hum of insects, gazing over the rolling green Southern Illinois hills, and watching the deer and turkeys come out at dusk. His only distraction? “The coyotes,” he says, “get a little noisy.”
Home for the summer off-season, Sloan sports a blue Utah Jazz polo shirt but says he feels worlds away from his hectic career. “I just enjoy the different lifestyle from my business — we go here, there, and everywhere,” he says from beneath a John Deere baseball cap. This fall, Sloan begins his 21st season as head coach of the Utah Jazz NBA team; he has the distinction of being the longest-tenured coach of any team in any professional sports league.
But distinction is exactly what Sloan shies away from. He has a laundry list of accomplishments — including 17 trips to the NBA playoffs and an NBA Coach of the Year award from his peers — but as his longtime colleague, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, told The New York Times: “He doesn’t want the spotlight any more than he ever did when he was younger.”
Working in the NBA hasn’t stripped Sloan of his small-town Midwestern values of loyalty, humility, and simplicity. The same philosophies guide his coaching as well as the charitable efforts of the Bobbye and Jerry Sloan Hand-in-Hand Foundation, created in memory of his late wife of 41 years, his high school sweetheart and mother of his three children who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer in 2004. In August, the foundation will hold its first event in Evansville, and in true Sloan form, it isn’t an exclusive black-tie dinner or ritzy celebrity gala. Instead, he returns to Evansville to host “Bobbye Socks and Bobbye-Que,” a 1950s sock hop-themed dinner and dance in the city that helped propel him to a legendary career in professional basketball — a career that nearly veered off-course before it had barely begun.