Low-key Kerr Sets Tone for Selfless Warriors 

Ordinarily, a visitor wouldn’t know the roof of an Oakland hotel serves as the practice facility for the best team in basketball, but one look at the signs confirms he has come to the right place.

Join Us For Happy Hour Everyday, they say.

And so it was again on Friday morning, when the Warriors continued their wildly wonderful season in advance of their final road trip of the regular season. When the doors opened, coach Steve Kerr could be seen drop-kicking a basketball toward a hoop, while his best player, Stephen Curry, was feeding him. After another miss from roughly halfcourt — the coach said he hadn’t made one in two months — he quietly took a seat on the sidelines, away from his players and a few team personnel and media, alone in his thoughts.

Some critics say that has been Kerr’s biggest contribution this season — he has rolled out the ball then gotten the hell out of the way. Yet, others will tell you that is the brilliance of the man, one of the primary reasons the Warriors are on the top of the NBA world with a 62-13 record and 11 victories in a row.

At 49, Kerr has been around the NBA block before. He has been a player (career reserve), a broadcaster (superstar) and a general manager (never mind). The one-time Opie lookalike knows a great situation when he sees one, and he fully understands the Warriors are in a position they may not be in again for a while. An opponent may yet beat them, but it won’t be named Distraction, least of all one that he creates himself.

So ask Kerr about his role in team success, and he’ll credit the players, the assistant coaches, the front office, the team owner, the ticket-takers, the fans -- everyone except himself, it seems. Is it any wonder his team shares the ball better than any in the league? Or that only one scores at a higher rate?

The season has been full of firsts for a Warriors franchise that hadn’t been relevant in years. Now, one more victory will move Kerr past Paul Westphal and Tom Thibodeau for the most by a rookie head coach in league history.

“Flattering, very flattering,” Kerr said when informed of the milestone.

And one just knows what to expect next . . .

“I doubt many of the other coaches had my roster. It’s a pretty talented group.”

This kind of attitude isn’t supposed to happen in an era of self-promoters with bloated contracts and egos to match. How did Kerr become so selfless, so humble, so unfull of himself? Was there a person or persons in his early life who was responsible for it?

“I don’t know,” Kerr shrugged. “I can’t remember that far back.”


“I appreciate the question, but I’m not writing a book with you,” he added with a crooked smile. “This is who I am. I’m just being myself.”

Not every head coach in professional sports is so determined to stay in the background. Some will tell you the refusal of Kerr’s predecessor, Mark Jackson, to serve solely as a head coach is what led to his departure, ultimately.

Come hell or high water, Jackson was driven to be a difference-maker culturally and religiously, only to become a polarizing figure instead. While Jackson had the support of Curry, others, such as Australian-born Andrew Bogut, were turned off by sometimes oppressive ways. The result was a fragmented team come playoff time.

Kerr isn’t interested in playing the game within the game these days, if for no other reason than, “This is not about me,” as he puts it yet again. He had made his mark in less subtle ways, such as convincing Curry to make a greater commitment at the defensive end, a challenge the soon-to-be Most Valuable Player readily accepted.

Months later, Curry acknowledged the team is looser yet pays attention to detail more often than at this time a year ago, a transformation that would seem to bode well for its postseason bid.

“Last year, we lost some games against lesser opponents, and that frustrated the team,” Curry said. “This year, we’re more focused every game. Even when we fall behind, we’re able to regroup better.”

For that, Kerr deserves credit whether he likes it or not.

“His style and staff have put us in position to win a lot of games,” Curry said. “He keeps it light. He expects us to play hard, but he wants us to have fun doing it.”

Then again, Kerr knows first-hand that few things can destroy a team faster than greed and arrogance.

In Chicago, Kerr was a member of Michael Jordan’s supporting cast, a once-in-a-generation team that captured six league championship in a span of eight seasons. The number probably would have been greater had the nucleus not been broken up prematurely.

Save perhaps for a few in the front office, everyone knew Jordan was the primary reason for the spectacular success, but Kerr was one of the few who would admit as much publicly. He never complained about his playing time off the bench. He never fussed about his role as a three-point specialist. When Jordan blackened one of his eyes in a fit of rage at practice one day, he claimed it was the result of a home accident. He contributed in whatever way possible, content to know he would have a place in the victory parade somewhere.

“What I learned with the Bulls is that you don’t get many chances in life,” he said. “When you do get one, you can’t pull back. You’ve got to go for it.”

The Warriors have a glorious opportunity this season, and damn if Steve Kerr is going to drop-kick it to hell.

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