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After Bulls And Jazz, NBA Coach Sloan Calls Game Over

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

Hey, you know what? The Cleveland Cavaliers won a basketball game last night. What was it? 126-119 against the mighty L.A. Clippers, snapping a 26-game losing streak. But as NPR's Tom Goldman joins us, let's talk about something else entirely, Tom.

Jerry Sloan, the great coach of the Utah Jazz retired on Thursday - stepped down at any rate - after spending more than 23 years as head coach of the Jazz. He's the only coach in league history to have more than 1,000 wins with one team. Why would he hang it up just a few days after he signed a contract extension?

TOM GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it's a shock to all of us who watch and love the NBA, but Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said in an interview this week that contractually we always knew that was a possibility that Sloan would quite quickly.

And Sloan had been hinting since the beginning of the season that he might wake up one day and decide that's it, I'm done. It appears that's what happened this week.

The key word here, Scott is energy. He said he didn't have the energy. We're not just talking about that get-out-of-bed energy. He's a young 68 and apparently he's in good health. It was the energy he needed to keep going and soldier on and keep fighting the battles he always fought with players - most recently his talented point guard Deron Williams, one of the league's best.

SIMON: Phil Jackson told me a number of years ago that he really appreciated coaching against Jerry Sloan, because, he said, look, Salt Lake City, great town, but it's not New York, Chicago or L.A. It's a relatively small market and it's hard to get a lot of great name players to go there.

GOLDMAN: I think it's a really good point. And a lot of free agent players who will look at the map, the NBA map, and say I want to go there. I want to go there. Well, not a lot of players - as is well known, Utah has a very small percentage of African-Americans. And I think it's important for a lot of African-American basketball players who look at it and look at, you know, the cultural environment they're going to be in and say, eh, I'm not so sure I want to be there.

That's not all, of course. But Utah was definitely not on the map as far as that goes. So it is a testament to what Jerry Sloan was able to do with draft picks and trades. He did a remarkable job.

SIMON: And what does it mean for the future of the Jazz?

GOLDMAN: It's still a talented team. Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the league. The new coach Ty Corbin is a long time player. He commands a lot of respect. The Jazz lost last night to Phoenix in their first game without Jerry Sloan. But I think that they were all still in a little bit of shock. There's time for them to right the ship, definitely.

SIMON: The Vancouver Winter Olympics opened a year ago today. And by the end they were considered wildly successful, but we should remember that the games started with the tragic death of a Georgian luger. And now I gather new questions are being raised about the safety of that luge track.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there were documents released this week under the Freedom of Information Act in Canada that indicate that Vancouver organizing committee officials suspected nearly a year before the fatal crash that the track wasn't safe.

Now, the head of the organizing committee, John Furlong, is denying that there's any smoking gun in these documents. He insists the track was good to go by the time of the Olympics. The luger's dad has called for a further investigation of his son's death. The Canadian media has hit Furlong hard this week. And it's a week, ironically, that coincides with the release of Furlong's Olympics memoir. So it hasn't been a fun book tour so far for him.

SIMON: And he implied something else in that book which is kind of sensational.

GOLDMAN; Well, he does. It could be. I mean, Furlong recounts an incident where he had a handshake agreement with the mayor of Moscow in which Vancouver officials would help Russia in its bid for the 2012 Summer Games, which Russia didn't win, in exchange for Russian IOC members voting for Vancouver for the 2010 games, which they did.

And for those who remember the ethics violations from the Salt Lake City bidding scandal, this raises possible red flags. Furlong says nothing about the agreement was illegal. Our own Howard Berkes, one of the first to report and expose the Salt Lake City scandal, wrote to the IOC this week to find out if they're investigating for possible ethics violations. They said they haven't read the book yet. So we'll see if they do anything.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman.

Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.