What Started With a Kiss Is Now Goodbye From Mark Cuban to Jerry Sloan
"I blew him a kiss,'' Mavericks owner Mark Cuban remembered about his first encounter with legendary Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
With Sloan having resigned Thursday midway through his 23rd season on the job, Cuban said in an interview with FanHouse he's always had great respect for the coach even if their initial meeting might have been a bit awkward from Sloan's end.
During a game in that 2001 first round, Cuban's first full season as Dallas owner, he said he ran into Sloan when Jazz guard John Stockton was at the free-throw line.
"Right when I got to the league, nobody knew what to expect from me,'' said Cuban, one of the NBA's more freewheeling guys while Sloan has been one of the more conservative, said before his team faced Denver on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center. "It was in a situation where it was in a playoff series that we ended up winning (with) Calvin Booth (hitting a late jumper in Game 5 to win 3-2). John Stockton went to the line with 2.7 seconds to go.
"While he was shooting his second free throw, I noticed there was 2.0 seconds to go. So I got a little upset. So I went over and I was like, 'What the hell is wrong with the scorer's table?' And (Sloan's) like, 'Look at him. What is he doing?' So I blew him a kiss.''
What did Sloan do?
"He just shook his head and walked away,'' Cuban said. "You don't deal with a crazy guy. That was my first encounter. But I've always had a ton of respect for him.''
Cuban certainly has.
"Jerry Sloan is a beast literally,'' Cuban said. "His personality on the court as a player with the Bulls (in the 1960s and 1970s) translated as a coach and helped define Utah's franchise. It's been the hardest place in the league to play since I've been around the NBA. That's a testament to the type of person Jerry is. ... He's a good guy.''
While Cuban was able laugh about an incident with Sloan, Nuggets coach George Karl was rather torn up about his abrupt resignation.
"It's hard,'' Karl said before Thursday's game. "I can't tell you that I'm not kind of emotionally drained by the decision. I heard about it (Wednesday) night a little bit before, and then it came to fruition. It was kind of a tough one to swallow.''
Karl and Sloan were never very close, but they battled in each other regularly in the NBA for two decades. Karl said it was "cool'' when told he and Sloan are tied 38-38 in their all-time NBA meetings. Karl has a 30-29 regular-season advantage and Sloan is up 9-8 in the playoffs, excluding Utah's 4-2 first-round win over Denver last spring, when Karl wasn't with the Nuggets due to a form of throat cancer.
Karl told a great story related to Sloan in a 2008 interview with the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. He said while coaching the Seattle in the 1990s his team sometimes would assemble phony scouting reports and leave a copy behind in the locker room when the team was on the road.
Karl remembered doing it when the SuperSonics played at Utah. But Karl said it never worked against Sloan.
"I don't think he paid much attention to it,'' Karl said Thursday.
But Karl was paying close attention earlier in the day to Sloan's press conference.
"I say shocked and saddened are my feelings,'' said Karl, whose most legendary encounter with Sloan was his SuperSonics beating the Jazz 4-3 in the 1996 Western Conference finals to get Karl to his only NBA Finals. "He's no question one of my favorite coaches and I think one of the best coaches ever to coach in the NBA. To go down this way makes me very sad.''
While there have been reports that friction with star point guard Deron Williams factored into Sloan's exit, Karl didn't profess to know exactly why Sloan, 68, stepped down. But he had a general understanding of it.
"I think he in his press conference, he felt his time had run out,'' Karl said. "I respect him at that word. (Dean Smith, who coached Karl at North Carolina), got out of the game (in 1997) because he couldn't keep his level of discipline he felt should be in the game and he didn't want to lower that line. At times, the way the game has changed, the way the game has become kind of a celebrity thing, an Internet thing and a gossip thing, they're a lot of things that don't make us love the game as much as the old days. ... I would say he's one of the few guys left who's probably more of a dictator than a democratic president.''
Forward Carmelo Anthony, whose Nuggets have been battling Northwest Division supremacy for the past half decade, was taken aback when he heard the news about Sloan.
"The timing was shocking,'' Anthony said. "Nobody has been really hearing anything about him and the situation over there, what's going on. So for him to just up and leave, it was shocking to everybody.''
Mavericks guard Jason Terry, a 12-year veteran who faced Sloan's Jazz many times, also didn't see it coming.
"I'm surprised,'' Terry said. "He always seems like a guy that's going to finish out the task however tough it gets for him. To just leave all of a sudden, everybody's thinking: What was the deeper problem? As far as him as a coach, he's an all-time great. ... The way it all happened, he signed an extension just a couple of days ago, and (Thursday) he's leaving. It just has to be something. It's a sad day for basketball.''
Sloan did admit Thursday he "got into it'' recently with Williams. He said he also clashed with star Karl Malone years ago but it was different because Sloan was younger then.
With all the battles Sloan has been through, a blown kiss 10 years ago from Cuban certainly couldn't have been too bad.