Jazz players will be sporting a "1223" black tribute patch in honor of the late Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, who died at age 78 on May 22 from complications from Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia. The number signifies his total victories as a head coach in Utah and will be worn starting with the Jazz's first scrimmage this Thursday against Phoenix.
Jerseys also will showcase Sloan's special black strip during the 2020-21 campaign, where the franchise will continue to honor him in some capacity.
"It's a big loss for our community and the basketball world but his legacy lives on forever," Jazz center Rudy Gobert told ESPN in May. "Always loved our conversations, I could feel that he had that competitiveness and love for the game. I remember him sitting there and watching pretty much every practice years after he was retired. I also know that he really respected hard work, more than anything, and I could sense that he really respected and loved players that have that mindset since the first day I spoke with him."
Sloan, a former Chicago Bulls player, coached the Jazz for 23 years (1988-2011) and led Utah to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. Sloan and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich are the only coaches in NBA history to win at least 1,000 games with one team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"Coach Jerry Sloan will forever be in the hearts of the Utah Jazz organization and fans everywhere, and we feel it is only fitting to honor him in this way," said Jazz governor Greg Miller in a statement Tuesday. "His contributions to our Jazz family and communities are a defining part of our franchise history and we look forward to seeing 1,223 on the jerseys of our players in Orlando as a nod to his legacy."
Sloan's wife, Tammy, became aware of the gesture by the Jazz organization a while back. She said she offered her approval beforehand because the Jazz "was his life."
"I'm really happy that they're doing something and honoring him because he worked there so long and every part of the Jazz were a big part of his life from the ushers to the food service works to the coaches, I mean everybody," Tammy told ESPN. "He talked to everybody that worked there and the fans. It was just so much of his life for so long."
Before Jerry Sloan's death, Tammy says she invited Jazz legends Karl Malone and John Stockton over to their Utah residence to spend time with him with his health declining. Malone and Stockton also attended a backyard celebration of life for Sloan after his death on June 20, also at their Utah home, along with the 1996-97 Jazz Finals team, current owner Gail Miller and roughly a couple hundred people.
"He did wake up long enough to tell Karl he was happy he finally shaved. It was kind of cute because Karl had grown this big beard," Tammy said, laughing. "It was fun for them because their whole team was here and they got to visit at the party and it was a really fun night."