Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.
I think an “across all sports” debate like this is one difficult to write, and impossible to judge. It’s akin to asking someone if his or her apple pie or steak was better. The standards for comparison are completely different, and both can be equally enjoyable without diminishing the other one in any way.
Given that, I certainly understand if somebody doesn’t agree with me that Jerry Sloan was the best coach across all of sports to never win a title. However, it’s my job to win this debate, and win it is what I intend to do.
I thought of a lot of different approaches that I could take in this debate. I could have argued statistics until I was blue in the face. For example, Sloan coached the Jazz to 15 consecutive playoff appearances. He is one of only three coaches in NBA history with 15 (or more) consecutive winning seasons (Pat Riley and Phil Jackson are the other two – solid company). He retired with a .603 winning percentage. Taking note of those statistics, however, I did not want to rely on those for my argument because it is far too easy to shoot holes in statistics or argue against them with other statistics that you believe to be superior.
I also thought of perusing the Internet to find people making this argument but, honestly, I am not sure why one guy on the Internet making this argument would make my article any more credible. That idea was quickly discarded.
I settled on what I believe to be the best argument for why Jerry Sloan was the best coach across all of sports to never win a title. At its core, the argument is very simple.
His two best teams, the 1996-97 and 1997-98 Utah Jazz, only lost championship series appearances to one of the greatest NBA teams of all time – the 1996-98 Chicago Bulls. More importantly, however, his best teams lost to a team led by arguably the greatest team sport athlete in history, Michael Jordan. Jordan’s name and on-court achievements generate respect from all corners of the sports world and even a few corners of the non-sports world (but who would want to live there?).
Sloan’s Jazz took the Bulls to the brink two years in a row (losing each series four games to two), so it seems obvious that the margin between one of the best teams in NBA history and Sloan’s best team is small, at best. In fact, if Michael Jordan doesn’t steal the ball and smoothly sink the game winning shot/push off (depending on your perspective, of course), it’s possible that the final Bulls championship team may have lost to the Jazz after all, given the fact that game seven of that series was going to be in Utah. Again, arguably the greatest team sport athlete in history, making the type of play expected from athletes of his caliber, is all that stood between Sloan and the immortality of being named a champion.
Sports are funny. Often the margin between hero and goat is miniscule. For players, however, there is no excuse – if you don’t score the goal or make the shot, the way you are remembered is directly a result of your actions.
For coaches, however, the standard is different. It is the coach’s job to put the player in the best possible position to execute the winning strategy. Jerry Sloan has his best player with the ball in his hands at the end of a crucial game. His best player lost the ball, and Sloan’s team lost the game. Should that affect the way Sloan is remembered? I say no. He is still one of the greatest coaches in sports ever, and definitely the best to be without a championship ring.