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Welcoming Deron Williams back to the fold

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Once a Jazzman, always a Jazzman.

I had only met the man once, we had taken our young children to a preseason game in 2008, it wasn’t planned, but we happened to be walking by the driveway where Jazz players and coaches leave the arena. There were a few fans gathered around the driveway, who had been waiting for autographs or waiting for the chance to see a player or coach when Jerry Sloan came driving up in his truck. Others asked for his autograph, I didn’t. I stood back in awe, here was Jerry Sloan. Jerry Sloan, the man I admired, the man who had coached my favorite team from the time I was a little girl until I was a married woman, the man who was the Utah Jazz. Sloan called out to us asking if our kids wanted an autograph too, we said yes. A fan who was prepared leant us a marker and Sloan signed a stat sheet for us, then he was off. That was my only encounter with him.

In February 2011 my world changed forever. The man who was the standard for NBA coaches, the man who was the longest tenured coach in all of professional sports, the man who I met just once before left the Utah Jazz.

On February 9, 2011, the Utah lost to the Chicago Bulls. It was a close game but something was off with the team. There was something going on with them, it was palpable even through the TV. That night, I didn’t get much sleep. There were media tweets about how Sloan was in a meeting with Kevin O’Connor and Greg Miller. Maybe 30-45 minutes after the game, Jerry addressed the media. He did not speak about what happened in his meeting with O’Connor and Miller, he spoke only of the game and then said he would address his meeting in the morning.

My husband happened to work late that night, my kids were long ago in bed, all I had that night was Twitter. The game was so stressful, I forgot to eat dinner. Around 10:30 that night I realized my husband still wasn’t home, I hadn’t eaten dinner and all was terribly wrong in our Utah Jazz world. Amar, Moni, and I spent much of the night tweeting with each other and other Jazz fans speculating what could possibly be going on with Sloan and the team. We had feelings that Sloan might be stepping down but no one could nor wanted to accept that reality.

The following day the Utah Jazz had a press conference were Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson announced their resignations. The press conference felt more like a funeral. It was the end of an era for the franchise, but the end did not happen in a way that the Hall-of-Fame coach deserved.

For months before Sloan’s resignation I had heard through media friends that there were issues between Sloan and Deron Williams. The details are no longer important but there was a pattern of disrespect between the young All-Star point guard and his HOF coach. It didn’t take long before rumors started that it was because of Williams that Sloan decided to call it quits. The Jazz were in a bad place. Miller and O’Connor were calling out not only fans but the two-time MVP, Karl Malone for speaking out and not believing the company line of “Sloan being tired” as a reason for his resignation. It got ugly. Please read Moni’s post for a reminder of how bad things really were with the team. It took the team over two years to even admit that there had been strife between Sloan and Williams. The dishonesty from the Jazz in regards to the whole situation caused a divide between the team and its most loyal fans. The years immediately following Sloan’s resignation and Williams’ trade made it difficult to be a Jazz fan. The years passed, O’Connor retired, Ty Corbin was not re-signed and things began to look up for the team.

Under the leadership of Dennis Lindsey, Quin Snyder, and now Steve Starks, there began to be a different feeling around the team. Fans were no longer disregarded, instead they were valued. The front office and the media no longer had to sell false hope about a bad coach or a middling team. The Jazz were different now, they had one of the smartest coaches in the league who excelled not only in player development but also player relationships. The front office and media no longer felt the need to hide things from fans and were slowly regaining their trust.

Despite the new optimism among the team and its fan, there was still a black cloud that lingered over the franchise. That black cloud being how Sloan and Williams left. The cloud has finally lifted.

On June 19, 2018, Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams met and finally talked about their relationship. Williams apologized to Sloan for all the trouble he caused and the disrespect that he showed. Aaron Falk of utahjazz.com wrote an in-depth piece about the meeting between the former Jazz player and coach. Steve Starks, President of the Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment called Williams in the Spring of 2018 to introduce himself and broach the subject of meeting with Sloan. Williams was immediately receptive and plans were made for the two to meet.

Williams on his meeting with Sloan:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“I got a chance to apologize for how things went down,” he said. “He got to voice his opinion about all the times I was a little s— to him and was a pain in his ass, and for him to get things off his chest. I think it was good. There was nothing bad about it. It was only positive.”

As a Jazz fan who had heard some of what had happened between Williams and Sloan it has been hard get over what happened between the two of them. It had been hard to truly forgive Williams. I have moved on as most Jazz fans have but there was always something hanging over my fandom. Things have never been the same since 2011. It was almost as if the 2006-2011 Jazz teams did not exist. Highlights of those teams are rarely shared by the team, nor are they mentioned much by the media. In my heart it was also hard to think of those teams and enjoy them knowing how it all ended.

Williams’ apology to his coach has allowed him to have closure. It has allowed the team to have closure and it has now allowed me to have closure. I can now fully enjoy the Deron Williams years without thinking about the “what ifs” and how it ended. I can now fully appreciate what the 06-11 teams did to resurrect the Jazz and my own Jazz fandom. I can now fully move on and truly enjoy what we have today.

Thank you Deron for apologizing to Jerry. Thank you Steve Starks for helping the meeting to happen.