The Utah Jazz just dropped an amazing updated synopsis of what happened that night with Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan. The night that changed the franchise in less than a 24 hour span. It would lead to Jerry Sloan’s retirement, Deron Williams being jettisoned from Utah for Derrick Favors and draft picks, and crazy online and offline feud between Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone and new owner-in-chief, Greg Miller.
Before we take a deep dive into this new information, here’s the podcast below. You can also read the story here. It’s an amazing look into what happened by Aaron Falk (formerly of the Salt Lake Tribune) of the events that transpired that night.
With that being said, Aaron Falk is now having his bread buttered and paid for by the Utah Jazz. While there are amazing new details that are brought to light in this, there are some interesting nuggets that one would wish we could learn a bit more of. We are lucky that someone of Aaron Falk’s journalistic prowess is allowed this type of access behind the Note Curtain, but this incredibly messy and tormented relationship has been sanitized a bit. There are some details, interestingly, omitted, and, due to Jerry Sloan’s health, the Hall of Fame coach was unable to be interviewed for the podcast.
Prior to this podcast and story by Aaron Falk, this is what we knew about that fateful night from third party accounts. Monilogue, who used to write for SLC Dunk and runs the JazzFanatical website, had aggregated a lot of those accounts together. She is a patriot for the Jazz cause.
“If you’re going to break the offense”
At the end of a media round table with Greg Miller on June 25, which the media was not permitted to record, Jim Burton from the Standard Examiner asks Greg whether Jerry Sloan’s return to the franchise helps bridge the gap over what happened with Deron Williams.
Greg looks at the assembled media, and asks, “Do you guys want to hear the story?” He gets an affirmative response.
According to Greg, at halftime of Utah Jazz vs. Chicago Bulls on Feb. 9, 2011, Jerry tells Deron, who had broken several plays in the first half,* “If you’re going to break the offense and change plays, would you at least let your teammates know?”
Deron initially responds, “My bad,” but then starts going on about why he was changing plays, how things should be done, and why they should be done his way.
In Deron Williams’ account with Aaron Falk for UtahJazz.com, he adds some color and has a different side to it.
Back in February of 2011, the brash, young All-Star point guard says he knew his big man preferred the other side of the floor.
“So I just made a call,” Williams said.
That was the first call: flipping Twenty-Two.
There also is an additional wrinkle to this whole building contentious fight between star player and hall of fame coach: Gordon Hayward. Gordon Hayward was the Jazz’s new fresh face and future of the franchise. But back then, he was in a lion’s den with two alpha’s ready to burn the place down in the name of stubbornness and dominance. Prior to this game, there had been the infamous—and petulant—pass angrily thrown at Gordon Hayward because Deron Williams had lost his cool.
Greg Miller’s account of halftime
Right before the half, it seems the precious, Gordon Hayward, got in Deron Williams’ war path that night. Jody Genessy, previously of the Deseret News, had this tidbit:
“The last play of the half,” Miller said, “Deron got after Gordon Hayward, the play broke down and we went into the locker room.”
When halftime arrived Jerry Sloan lit up Deron Williams according to Greg Miller’s version of events:
During that fateful halftime break, Sloan “reprimanded Deron” for freelancing. According to Miller, who usually accompanies the team into the locker room, the Jazz coach told his star player something to the effect of, “Hey, if you’re going to change the play, it would be nice if you’d let the rest of the team know so we have a chance to score.”
Williams’ response: “My bad.”
Much to Miller’s chagrin, the contentious moment, however, continued after that exchange.
”If (Williams) would’ve left it right there, Jerry might have never left,” Miller said.
Instead, Williams allegedly continued to pop off. Jazz center Al Jefferson even reached over and tried to ease tensions by telling his teammate, “C’mon now.”
Sloan had had enough.
”Jerry said at that point, ‘I don’t have anything else,’” Miller said.
Instead of turning the time over to his assistants, Sloan headed to his office around the corner from the players lockers. As he passed Miller, the then-68-year-old coach told the Jazz CEO, “I’d like to have a word with you after the game.”
”Deron was right behind us and he said, ‘Yeah, I want to be in the meeting too,’” Miller related. “Jerry said, ‘Do you want me to just quit right now?’”
That shocked Miller and, no doubt, everybody who heard him drop the foreshadowing bombshell.
After team members went their separate ways during halftime, Miller approached Sloan and pledged his support.
”I want you to be very clear on one thing,” Miller told Sloan. He continued, “If anything got to the point where we had to make a choice between a player and you as our head coach, we would side with you a hundred times out of a hundred.”
”He said, ‘Well, I don’t know how much I have left in me,’” Miller said.
Deron Williams version of halftime
Deron Williams said this about that halftime event:
“Do you want to coach this team?” Sloan asked him.
It was the same question Sloan asked in the locker room at halftime of a game against the Bulls in February after Williams had made the call and changed the play without consulting Sloan.
“You’ve got the power,” Williams replied. “You’ve got the juice.”
(One recently published account of the argument suggested that Williams said “I have the juice,” but Williams says it was just the opposite. “I’m smarter than that,” Williams said recently, reflecting on the argument. “I know who has the power in Salt Lake City, Utah.”)
Sloan turned to Miller, who was in the locker room, and said he wanted to meet with him after the game.
As halftime ended, Sloan and his players came together for a cheer. Usually, the coach would say “1, 2, 3, Jazz!” That night, Williams recalled, Sloan said “1, 2, 3, good luck.”
This seems to contradict a bit of the star driven egotistical character that Deron Williams has been cast as in the past and more of the win at all costs, driven Deron Williams that we knew. Deron Williams in the past was surly, there’s no getting around that, but it did seem out of character for Deron Williams to look to blow the whole thing up. With Deron’s version of events, this felt like two strong headed individuals clearly not on the same page right from the beginning of the season. Was this simply two of the NBA’s fiercest competitors caught in friendly fire?
Deron Williams is officially back in the Utah Jazz fold
While the events of that night have more clarity now than they did then, the most important part of all of this is Deron Williams is officially back in the Utah Jazz fold. All these years later, cooler heads were able to prevail. Under Utah Jazz President Steve Starks, the Utah Jazz business arm has created a culture that allows them to look into the future of the organization while celebrating their past, even if that means digging a little deeper into the complicated painful aspects of it.
Deron Williams is only 34 years old. He still is in playing shape. It would be amazing to see him again in a Utah Jazz uniform—even if it’s just for one season. If the Utah Jazz can sign David Stockton for a feel good story, they sure as hell can do it for a past All Star like Deron Williams who was so important for them in the post Stockton-to-Malone years. Most importantly, it will be nice to see Deron around the old haunts in the stands and around the players providing feedback and mentorship.
It’s amazing to see some sort of closure for the Jazz’s darkest timeline, even if it’s more of writing a neutral final chapter than a happy ending. Jerry Sloan might not be around for too much longer as Steve Starks pointed out in the podcast. He saw the window and brokered the meeting.
Here’s to looking forward to the future of the Utah Jazz while not leaving the past behind.