Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr has experienced personal tragedy while enjoying great heights of success as a collegiate and NBA player, and coach at the professional level. Kerr and his family endured the heartbreak of having his father Malcolm, who was serving as the President of the American University of Beirut at the time, killed when Kerr was only 18 years old.
Despite the death of his father, Kerr would go onto a standout career at the University of Arizona, which saw him become a second and third team All-American caliber player. He would follow that up by having a 15-year NBA playing career, that allowed him to be a part of both the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, during which he was a member of a total of five NBA Championship squads. Not too shabby for a player with career averages of 6.0 points per game, 1.2 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game.
At the close of his playing days, Kerr went on to become a broadcast analyst for Turner Network Television, followed by a stint as general manager of the Phoenix Suns. During his time as Suns GM, Kerr would make a trade in an effort to send them back to the top of the NBA ladder, which saw him acquire Hall of Fame Center Shaquille O’Neal. Unfortunately for the Suns, the acquisition of O’Neal did not lead to an NBA Championship.
In 2014, Kerr sought a new challenge, as he headed to the sidelines to become the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Coach Kerr enjoyed immediate success, as the Golden State Warriors would end his inaugural coaching season by winning the NBA Championship, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. The victory gave Kerr his sixth overall championship (five as a player, one as a coach). Fast forwarding to today, we find Steve Kerr continuing to lead Golden State, as they look to claim their fourth title in five years. If accomplished, this would bring Kerr’s number of titles won as a player or coach to nine.
Retired Bulls/Lakers coach Phil Jackson eclipsed Hall of Fame coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach’s nine titles, with his tenth as a coach when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals four games to one. Including two titles claimed while a member of the New York Knicks in the 70’s, Phil Jackson’s number of titles as a player or coach now stands at a total of 13.
After stepping away from the game for a few years, in 2014, Jackson was hired as President of the New York Knicks. Many people found this opportunity to be a true measure of Jackson’s mettle, as in both Chicago and Los Angeles, the cupboards were hardly barren given the level of talent available in both organizations. In Chicago, Jackson had Michael Jordan, in the argument for the greatest player of all-time, along with Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman leading the charge.
His Los Angeles tenure provided him with the talents of Hall of Fame Center Shaquille O’Neal and multiple All-Star/soon to be Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant for three consecutive titles. Following the departure of O’Neal, a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies would yield All-Star forward Pau Gasol to team with Kobe Bryant and the remaining cast for two more titles. Jackson’s termination by the Knicks in 2017 after three years at the helm left a lot of his detractors with a stronger belief that Jackson wasn’t as great of a basketball mind as may have been thought.
When going back to Steve Kerr, we see some similarities between he and Jackson. Kerr inherited a roster consisting of one of the greatest shooters the game has/will ever see, and a two-time and only unanimous MVP in Stephen Curry; a multiple All-Star and prolific shooter in his own right in Klay Thompson, as well as NBA Defensive Player of the Year and multiple time All-NBA defensive team/All-Star member Draymond Green.
In addition to these talented players, after winning an NBA Championship in his rookie season, followed by a 73 win season (which was spoiled by a Herculean effort from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the title in seven games), the Warriors would go on to add one-time MVP, multiple time All-Star/scoring champion Kevin Durant, who when adding his talents to Warriors, enabled them to win two consecutive titles, with a third possibly months away.
This season has seen them add All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, who after missing nearly a year while rehabbing a torn Achilles, has stepped into the starting lineup to make Golden State even more formidable than they already were. Given the plethora of talent at his disposal, many wonder if Steve Kerr has to do much, if any coaching at all, or is he merely benefiting from having a talent-laden squad at his disposal, i.e., Phil Jackson with the Bulls and Lakers respectively.
Many a collection of talent in varied team sports has been unable to yield championship results. One needs to look no further than the Lakers themselves, as they added Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton (albeit near the end of their respective careers) to a roster including aforementioned players O’Neal and Bryant. While they made it to the 2004 NBA Finals, they were defeated four games to one by the Detroit Pistons, who were led by then-coach Larry Brown.
In the NFL, the New England Patriots went into the 2007 postseason with a pristine 18-0 record. While they reached the Super Bowl, the Patriots wound up losing 17-14 to the New York Giants in one of the biggest upsets in sports history. These are just a fraction of the examples that can be provided to emphasize that talent while necessary, doesn’t diminish the importance of coaching acumen.
If Golden State is able to conclude the 2018-2019 season with their third consecutive championship, it will place Steve Kerr in rarified air, as it would be his 9th combined title as a player or coach. While this would be quite a feat, his detractors would once again come forth with their rebuttal of Kerr’s coaching abilities, believing he has benefitted from having a “superteam” which stacks the deck in his favor. While this may have some merit, as Chris Berman of ESPN fame would say “That’s why they play the games.”
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Warriors could be defeated. A freak injury here, or a suspension there could occur and potentially ruin their chances of continuing their dominance. For sports fans, let’s hope that neither of the previous scenarios becomes reality. In the event Golden State is able to hoist their fourth championship in five years, the whispers will grow louder, as people will continue to wonder if Steve Kerr is the present day version of Phil Jackson…