This week the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the D.C. Circuit; that doesn’t happen very often. And yesterday there was a (puzzling) brouhaha about a procedural order. Even so, on the whole, it has been a quiet week for the D.C. Circuit.* So I’ll claim a moment of personal privilege.
This morning Jerry Sloan passed away. I was 8 years old when my mom told me that Coach Sloan was the new coach of the Utah Jazz. That was big news. We lived in Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah. (For a lot of folks, all of Utah is in the middle of nowhere, but trust me: some parts of Utah are in the middle of the middle of nowhere.) We had deer in the backyard — sometimes dozens of them. There was a sledding hill just up the road. The owner of the house sometimes would divert irrigation water into a little pool so my brother and I wouldn’t be tempted to play in the ditch. And whenever we could, my family would sit together to watch the Jazz on television.
I loved it.
We knew all the players. Sure, everyone knew Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Mark Eaton; they were all-stars. But what about Mike — the Brown Bear — Brown, “Big T” Thurl Bailey, and Bobby Hansen? One of my prized possessions was an “Old Home Bread” basketball card of Jose Ortiz. And the new coach was Jerry Sloan. I learned everything I could about him.
Coach Sloan was tough; as a coach, he almost got in a fight with Dennis Rodman. Coach Sloan was a farmer; he collected tractors. Coach Sloan’s strategy was predictable but it worked because his system was sound and executed flawlessly. Almost every time down the court, John Stockton — the greatest point guard of all time — would stop and look to Coach Sloan for the play call. I knew Coach Sloan wasn’t perfect; he could be stubborn and boy, he had a foul mouth. But he was loyal, serious, humble, funny, and the leader.
My family moved away from Utah a few years later when my dad’s job changed. We moved near Seattle. But I never stopped being a Jazz fan. (True story: I even wore these shoes in junior high.) Every time the Jazz played on TV, I watched. Playoff basketball was the best. My respect for Coach Sloan only increased. Every player who played for the Jazz got better; when they left, I knew they were going to fall off. And the Jazz were amazingly good for a very long time. That is a hard thing to do. Big cities should have good teams. When they don’t, that is an indictment of the franchise. Yet little Utah could battle the mighty Lakers — and sweep them.
John Stockton and Karl Malone eventually moved on; that’s life. But Jerry Sloan didn’t. He kept coaching the same way. In these posts, I try not to share my opinion of D.C. Circuit decisions, but that rule doesn’t extend to basketball. One of the greatest scandals of all time is that Jerry Sloan never won coach of the year, even when he led this roster to a winning record.
All the while I grew up. I graduated elementary school, junior high, high school, college, and then law school. I even got married and had kids of my own. And through all of that, Coach Sloan kept right at it. He coached the same way, with the same intensity, for 23 years. I’m embarrassed to say it, but when I learned that he had retired, it felt like a death in the family; that could be because Coach Sloan always reminded me of my grandpa. In a world where everything changes, Jerry Sloan didn’t. He was consistent; he was always there, doing things his way.
I stopped liking basketball as much after Jerry Sloan retired. We still watch as a family, but it has never quite been the same. Eventually my mother — who may be the biggest fan of us all — got a job with the Jazz in one of the clubs at the arena. We loved to hear her stories about when Coach Sloan would come back to a watch a game.
What does this have to do with law? Probably nothing. And you don’t have to tell me that it is silly to care this much about a game and a coach I never met. I know that. But in my defense, I offer this adage: “Tell me who your heroes are, and I’ll tell you how you’ll turn out to be.” Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s true. But I sure hope it is because Jerry Sloan has been one of my heroes since I was 8 years old.
* The Court did issue one opinion this week: Maryland v. EPA. Judges Henderson, Garland, and Katsas decided it per curiam. The gist is that Maryland and Delaware contend that several pollution sources violate the Clean Air Act’s “Good Neighbor Provision.” The Court concluded that Delaware failed to adequately demonstrate air quality problems or identify cost-effective solutions. The Court denied Maryland’s petition in part because catalytic control sources could not effectively reduce emissions further. EPA, however, had not adequately explained its decision for non-catalytic controls.
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