Sloan, Chicago were a perfect match

When Jerry Sloan resigned last week after 23 years as Utah Jazz head coach, it was easy to forget how connected he is to the Bulls and the Chicago area.

During a conversation at the 1998 NBA Finals, Sloan remembered his stay here with two words:

“Prospect Heights.”

Sloan was reminiscing over the location of the shop where his wife, Bobbye, who died in 2004, sold antiques.

“Camp McDonald Road and Route 82,” Sloan said.

Forgive Sloan for it actually being Route 83. He hasn't been a player here since 1976 or a head coach since 1982.

In 2011, Sloan's tenure with the Bulls seems like forever ago and appropriately was relegated to history's back seat by Michael Jordan and the Bulls' dynasty of the 1990s.

Younger fans likely remember Sloan mostly as the Jazz coach who lost to the Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 Finals.

But the Jazz only inherited Sloan's intensity, toughness, scowl, clenched fists and passion for basketball.

Jerry Sloan discovered those characteristics down in southern Illinois and polished them up here in Chicago.

Sloan and the Bulls will share pieces of each other as long as his retired No. 4 hangs from the roof of the United Center and on a wall in the Berto Center.

“I've never gone around thinking about whether people like me or dislike me,” Sloan said back in '98. “I had good times playing there (in Chicago). Being fired (as coach) was no fun, but you move on.”

This might be difficult for anybody under age 40 to comprehend, but Sloan's Bulls in a way reflected Chicago more accurately than Michael Jordan's did.

Sloan wasn't the player Jordan was, nor were his teams as successful as Jordan's, but in their modest way the 1970s Bulls were nearly as beloved here as the 1990s Bulls were.

The Bulls with Sloan were like the '69 Cubs and '77 White Sox — teams that didn't win a title but were admired for the way they carried themselves.

Jordan's flashy teams were the Beatles of basketball, an exception to any rule, a privileged diversion from reality.

Jordan himself was a freak, so spectacularly talented that he belonged to the world as much as to Chicago.

By contrast, Sloan's toughness intersected with this city as naturally as State does with Madison.

Sloan was how Chicago likes to think of itself. He had fewer physical gifts but came as close to maximizing them as Jordan did his.

Even though the result never was a championship, Sloan always could go back to the privacy of his uncomplicated life on his downstate farm and sleep well over a job well attempted.

Those Bulls teams in the '70s with Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker, Bob Love and Tom Boerwinkle scratched and clawed at the fabled Celtics and Lakers, at the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Bucks, at the champion Knicks.

Even “almost” is bearable if embodied in likable players like the 1975 Bulls.

“All of us are a product of what has happened to us over the years,” Sloan said in 1998, proud of what he accomplished here and what his retired Bulls jersey continues to represent.

The distance between Salt Lake City now and Chicago then is considerable in miles, in years and in the Bulls' 10 head coaches since Sloan was fired 29 years ago this week.

Jerry Sloan's days here shouldn't be forgotten even if he didn't remember that Route 83 is Route 82.