Bell played for Sloan in Utah for four seasons and two separate stints in his career
The Utah Jazz announced Friday morning that former head coach, Jerry Sloan, died at the age of 78 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Sloan is one of the most well-respected coaches in NBA history, and was at the helm of some of the most successful Jazz teams in franchise history.
His name is synonymous with Utah Jazz basketball, and his coaching style of playing tough, never-back-down basketball is what attracted players like Raja Bell to play for the Jazz on two separate occasions in his career.
“Jerry’s one of my favorite coaches of all time,” Bell said on CBS Sports HQ on Friday. “I chose to play for him twice … I went to Utah the second time because of the respect I have for him.”
Bell’s respect for Sloan also stems from the opportunity he gave him when he played in Utah. Prior to getting to Utah, Bell played for the Philadelphia 76ers for two seasons, and one year with the Dallas Mavericks, where he wasn’t getting consistent minutes or touches to show what he can really contribute. Once he got to Utah in 2003, his numbers went up significantly, but the biggest area where he excelled was on the defensive end of the floor.
“When I got to Jerry it coincided with [John] Stockton retiring and [Karl] Malone going to L.A., so he wanted me to be part of that team defensively,” Bell said. “What he did for my career overall … I’ll be eternally grateful. He was instrumental, because he had this take-no-prisoners, give-no-layups-away and fight-for-every-inch-on-the-floor mentality.”
Those two seasons early in Bell’s career with Sloan and the Jazz catapulted him to becoming one of the toughest defenders in the league once he left Utah and joined the Phoenix Suns. There, Bell earned All-Defensive honors in back-to-back seasons on Phoenix teams that won 50-plus games and made a trip to the Western Conference finals.
Bell’s career flourished, and he attributes some of that success to being coached by Sloan, and he’s likely not the only former NBA player that feels that way too. Aside from the impact Sloan had on him, Bell also notes the legacy the Hall of Fame coach left behind in Utah during his 23-year tenure as head coach of the Jazz.
“I don’t know that you can put that into words, what he meant to Utah,” Bell said. “… Utah’s a basketball crazy town and a lot of that has to do with Jerry Sloan. I do believe he’s part of the DNA to what we believe the Utah Jazz teams to be, which is hard-nosed, never-give-an-inch defensive teams. He laid the foundation to have that be what the Utah Jazz represents as a brand.”
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