-Jerry Sloan’s Profanity-
Professional basketball can be one of the greatest forms of entertainment on earth. Watching the best of the best go head-to-head, showcasing years of training mixed with unmatched physical talent is an amazing thing. Every game has a brand new and unpredictable storyline full of team effort combined with one-on-one displays of extraordinary athleticism that are sure to keep you from looking down at your phone. The momentum shifts, the no-look passes, the fast breaks ending with one player swinging from the rim and the other trying to escape an unwanted game of Twister with court side fans, the finesse of a step-back three, and the viciousness of a two-handed dunk are all delicious ingredients blended together to create the world’s most entertaining smoothie. But, the best part of the show isn’t the game-winning shots or the humiliating cross-overs. Hands down, the best part of any basketball game is when your favorite player drops a curse word so clearly that even without hearing it, everyone knows exactly what he just said.
For example: I could replay the clip of DeAndre Jordan dunking on Brandon Knight’s poor soul about 20 times and be thoroughly entertained, but I could replay the clip of Joakim Noah telling Lebron “You’re still a bitch, though” for about six hours straight and forget to blink the entire time. There’s just something so magical about it. I’ve spent hours rewinding clips of Steve Kerr yelling at refs just so I could piece together every bad word his mouth composed. It is quite honestly the simplest and most pure form of joy a fan can experience while watching basketball. And there’s an endless variety of different shapes and flavors each bringing with it a new adventure whenever the heavens open their windows and bless us with a sports swear. It could be a celebratory “F*** YEAH”, a you just got blocked “Get that shit outta here!”, or my personal favorite, the point-blank, soul-chilling “Bitch.” whispered in a players ear. Watching an NBA player swear on TV is like finding a single curly fry in your order of French fries, it’s completely unexpected, but by some divine string of events, it made its way to you and knowing that it should never have been in there makes it taste so much better.
Just as delightful as the swear itself, is the network’s reaction to it. It can go a few different ways, but usually the cameraman is the first to notice. He then gets to choose if he wants to be a hero or a coward. The cowardly camera operator will pan away from the cursing player asap just to make his boss happy, but the hero…that brave beautiful hero to whom we are all indebted, he keeps the camera right on the action squeezing the last drops of obscenity out of that profane lemon. I applaud these courageous camera artists for their service. Next up is the announcers. They’re presented with three paths to choose from: A) Completely ignore what they just saw. B) Apologize to the viewers and condemn the player for using such language (this is the most common and disappointing). Or the correct option, C) Look at each other like a couple of 12 year olds that just witnessed their mom give the finger to another driver on the freeway. Silently exchanging eyebrows that say “Holy shit that was hilarious, but we’re gonna get our ass beat if we say anything” while trying hopelessly to keep their lips shut tight enough that the shaken soda cans full of laughter in their stomachs won’t come spraying out on live TV.
I was lucky enough to have a childhood filled with commentators scrambling to find the correct response to a broadcasted cursing. I grew up watching the Jazz in their purple mountain logo glory days. Of course, it wasn’t Stockton’s incredible passing, or Karl Malone’s mustachioed dunks that had me glued to the screen; It was watching Coach Sloan on the sidelines that made me a fan. That guy would swear more than a cowboy on a sailboat rapping along to an N.W.A. song. If they would’ve ever had him mic’d up during a televised game the audio would have more bleeps than R2D2 trying to send a fax. By my personal estimation, Sloan cursed an average of 43 times each game, multiply that by his 1,809 games as Utah’s head coach and you get 77,787 cuss words over his career. That’s more than double the amount of points Karl Malone scored in the NBA.
Climbing to the top of that profanity mountain takes hard-work, dedication, and perseverance, and Jerry Sloan exemplified all of those qualities in his swearing. He didn’t just wake up one day as the league’s all-time leading swearer, he put in serious hours of training. He was the first one in the gym every morning practicing hundreds of curse words before any other coach had eaten breakfast. Legend has it that when Jordan hit the shot in the 98 finals (after he pushed off of course), Sloan let off a string of 45 consecutive curse words ending with an F-bomb that lasted close to one full minute. One Jazz official reported that the locker room was fitted with a 500 gallon drum used as a swear jar for coach Sloan, which was filled and donated to charity each year along with the Ostertag jerseys that no one wanted. It’s also rumored that before the taping of “Pulp Fiction”, Samuel L. Jackson spent six months with Jerry learning the intricacies of a properly delivered “Mother F*****”. Coach Sloan did more for the progression of dirty words than an entire generation of junior high kids at the back of a school bus. His swearing was poetry that knew no limits. Every game he painted a mural of vibrant “BULL SHIT!”s, perfectly timed “What the Hell?!”s, and “Damn it”s that filled the city with a sense of fairy tale wonder and amazement.
Coach Sloan established a winning culture in Utah. He coached for 23 years with only one season dipping below the .500 mark. Finishing his career with 1,223 wins (third most all time) and an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He will go down in history as one of the most respected head coaches in NBA history, and of course, the greatest potty-mouth the game has ever seen. It warms my heart to think about all the boys and girls across the country who had the honor of giggling each time the camera panned over to the Jazz bench just in time for Jerry to drop a close-up “MOTHER F*****”.
Michelangelo had his chisel, Van Gogh had his paintbrush, Jerry had his “MOTHER F*****”.
For this, Coach Sloan deserves not just one banner in the Utah rafters for his success as head coach, but another for being the all-time league leading swearer.