Jerry Sloan made his name as a coach in the far West, turning the Utah Jazz into a perennial NBA title contender in his own image, a team built around consistency, grit and tenacity. Yet many have overlooked where Sloan first began to mold that hard-scrabble hoops identity: on the courts in McLeansboro, Illinois.
The only people who never did forget are the natives of McLeansboro themselves, who have long celebrated their most famous alumnus, even when he was leading a team against the home team Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals. Now, after a decade of lobbying, Sloan has finally acquiesced to requests from McLeansboro (Ill.) Hamilton County High, the former coach’s alma mater, to re-name the school gym in his honor.
For Sloan, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, having his name on the Hamilton County gym is a smaller but only slightly less significant honor, as he told the Southern Illinoisan.
“It’s completely different (than the hall of fame); it’s a smaller stage, but the excitement is still there because you look forward to seeing people you haven’t seen, people you haven’t had a chance to visit with,” Sloan told the Southern Illinoisan. “Being in your hometown, that’s always nice.”
“It’s always been great for me to come back to my hometown, this is my hometown. That’s why I’ve always tried to stay as connected to it as possible.”
There is little doubt that Sloan has done that. Throughout his professional career, the coach has continued to maintain a residence in Illinois. He still talks like a gruff Illinoisan. He even insisted on using a Chicago-based accountant throughout his years with the Jazz.
Now he’s back to enjoying life away from the day-to-day basketball grind, enjoying the honorifics when they come and happily reconnecting with his former life, all with his family by his side, as his son, Brian Sloan, was at the Hamilton County gymnasium dedication.
“So many of these people are the reason I’m here,” Sloan said. “They had a lot to do with me being able to get back and forth to school; I had to hitchhike home a few times. I had people give me rides. They took my family with them to ballgames so they could watch me play, my mother especially. Those are just some of the things that happened.”