Steve Kerr Is the King of Cool: Drama x Joy x Defeat = Destiny on Repeat

Looking back at the miraculous life of the Warriors coach reveals the truth about "dramatic saga" and revenge after his team's 3-1 Finals collapse—a B/R Mag exclusive
photo of Erik MalinowskiErik Malinowski@@erikmalGolden State Warriors Lead WriterApril 19, 2017

A boy and his father walk out of a basketball game, hand in hand, into the California night, and the little one poses a question: We won the game, but why is everyone so mad?

All around them, people are complaining, even as their beloved team has kept a grip on the No. 1 national ranking.

The father looks down as they navigate the sea of fans exiting Pauley Pavilion. "The expectations," he says, "are a little higher than that."

After all, this is mighty UCLA, and the Bruins simply do not lose, not even to Maryland—hyped by the papers as the "UCLA of the East." A one-point victory, after it failed to score for the final three-and-a-half minutes, was unacceptable for the greatest college basketball team of all time. After 77 consecutive wins—almost three years without a loss!—yes, expectations were a little high.

The father hadn't spoken to his son with a fan's disgust. It was just a fact: Expectations are a little higher than that. That was the essence of Malcolm Kerr. No brash overstatements, no hyperbole. His clear-eyed perspective had, by this Saturday night in December 1973, made him one of the foremost scholars on Middle Eastern relations. He was a worldly man, a native of Beirut, like the eight-year-old in his grasp, and capable of disarming you with a smile before systematically picking apart your argument. When Kerr spoke, he compelled others to listen.

UCLA's Bill Walton goes up for a shot against Maryland's Tom McMillen and Len Elmore at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on December 1, 1973. The Bruins won 65-64.
UCLA's Bill Walton goes up for a shot against Maryland's Tom McMillen and Len Elmore at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on December 1, 1973. The Bruins won 65-64.(Getty Images)

The boy sure listened to his father that Saturday night, when the basketball legend of Steve Kerr began: In the four decades since, he has won enough championship rings to necessitate a second hand and compiled the most successful start to a coaching career in the NBA—like, ever. No hype here. Just facts: Since Kerr took over the Golden State Warriors in 2014, his team has won an unprecedented 67 or more games in three straight seasons. A seventh finger awaits its bling.

Seems like a hell of a life, but with great expectations come unexpected and deeply upsetting moments. Kerr maintains his father's smile, preaching the gospel of joy whenever he can, but there's a competitive fire in him that's been forged by the greatest success and most painful loss. He is self-effacing, even though his body has been giving out on him since he was 20. He is a convincing strategist without being a jerk about it. And he remains hopeful not even a year removed from the historic Finals collapse—the inconceivable failure that became all too real, the Game 7 that shall not be named—that reduced his team to a meme.

Yes, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals. The internet hasn't let them forget yet.
Yes, the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals. The internet hasn't let them forget yet.(Getty Images)

Kerr's pendulum of fortune inexorably swings from one side to the other, and as he speaks with B/R Mag in early March, it is lurching uncontrollably. Having just lost three of five games, the Warriors are hours away from a one-point loss on the road to the Minnesota Timberwolves. That night, they fly south 1,100 miles to San Antonio, where they lose again, by 22 points, on national TV in prime time. This happens largely because Kerr sits his four best healthy players, an act that pisses off the league office and sparks a national debate about professional athletes and strategic recovery.

Back in Minneapolis, deep under a record number of fans filling into Target Center, Kerr is asked how he keeps his players from swerving too far into the depths of bad morale that verges on depression. His reply is both sensical and disproportionately more profound than the question itself.

"Part of who I am," Kerr says, "is just finding the humor and the irony in the bullshit that exists in the world and our everyday lives. We try to exploit that and have fun."

Except the Warriors aren't having much fun. The playoffs are looming in the long shadow of last June's season-ending debacle, Golden State is mired in the worst sustained stretch of play in Kerr's tenure, and Kevin Durant is still out with a knee injury.

But looking for panic in Kerr's face is a waste of time, because there's that comforting squint around the edges of his eyes when he smiles at you. No desperation here. Just the gospel: "We make fun of each other," he says. "We make fun of ourselves and try to laugh and keep it light."

“Part of who I am,” Kerr says, “is just finding the humor and the irony in the bullshit that exists in the world and our everyday lives. We try to exploit that and have fun.”
“Part of who I am,” Kerr says, “is just finding the humor and the irony in the bullshit that exists in the world and our everyday lives. We try to exploit that and have fun.”(Getty Images)

Some of that outlook comes from his dad, but Kerr has refined a persona of eminent calm—a gravity amid the chaos—after playing for some of the greatest head coaches in basketball history. From the intricacies of his offensive schemes to the way he answers questions outside the locker room, there are layers to everything Kerr does. Yet as he was asking around for advice before taking the Warriors job, responses from his mentors came back as variations of a theme: You got to be yourself.

This is who Steve Kerr is: Driven by anger and ebullience, with good humor to spare, in one of America's most high-pressure professions, his life has been defined by impossible choices every which way. But he continues to thrive by merging contradictions into his own kind of equilibrium and letting the results speak for themselves. His 15 years playing in the NBA now seem miraculous, even if you ignore the miracles—and the groin kick, and the 3-1 choke—that would follow.

"Did Steve have physical gifts that jump out at you immediately? No, he didn't," says B.J. Armstrong, who played two seasons in Chicago with Kerr. "But the more time you've spent around Steve, you began to see things."

Now here is some hype to live up to: Steve Kerr has only been a coach for three seasons, but he could end up one of the greatest in professional sports history. To hear it from the people who've known him best over his 51 years, this greatness—this destiny—was born in a personal history of joy, drama and defeat on repeat. "He was one of those guys who knew this was what he wanted to do," says Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser, one of Kerr's closest friends. "But life had to figure it out for him."

(Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the new B/R app for more sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.)

The Arizona Years: A Choice, a Death, a Legend in the Making

Graduation from Palisades High School was looming—June 1983—and Steve Kerr had a decision to make.

As a senior point guard on the varsity basketball team, Kerr had averaged more than 14 points and made two-thirds of his field goals, plus nearly 90 percent of his free throws.

But Kerr was also the starting third baseman (and sometimes relief pitcher) for PaliHi's best baseball team in decades. At the end of his junior year, Kerr played at Dodger Stadium when the Dolphins advanced to their first-ever Los Angeles city championship game. They lost to future MLB star Bret Saberhagen, who threw the first no-hitter in the tourney's 44-year history, but returned to the championship game the following year.

Torn between a love of two sports, 17-year-old Steve had to commit. His dream was to be a professional athlete, but which kind?

Kerr's mother, Ann, shows a 1995 photo of her with her sons (from left) John, Andrew and Steve.
Kerr's mother, Ann, shows a 1995 photo of her with her sons (from left) John, Andrew and Steve.(AP)

Malcolm and Ann Kerr were overjoyed when Steve picked hoops. He had been an emotional child, his mother explained from her office at UCLA—the kind who could "contain his emotions more carefully when he had to run back and forth on the court all the time."

The problem with basketball, though, was that Steve was barely recruited by any colleges. He graduated without any destination for the fall. The staff at Gonzaga had flown him north to Washington for a tryout, but it didn't go well. Colorado gave a sniff but passed. Cal-State Fullerton eventually came calling and, in lieu of other suitors, it seemed Steve would play a brisk 90-minute drive from the family home.

But when first-year Arizona coach Lute Olson, who went on to lead the Wildcats to 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances and a national title, saw Kerr at a Long Beach showcase in late June, he offered his final scholarship to the sharpshooter. Steve was elated, until a near-farcical series of missed calls and misunderstandings on both sides almost scuttled the arrangement. His dad, then a year into a new post as president of the American University of Beirut, stepped in and smoothed everything over.

Ensuring that Steve played basketball for the Wildcats was one of the last things Malcolm Kerr ever did for his son.

It was early in the morning—January 18, 1984—and Steve was asleep in his freshman dorm room. The phone rang at 1:30 a.m., and a family friend told the teenager the news: His father had been shot and killed by two assassins outside of his office in Lebanon.

(via Newspapers.com)

Sensing the grief and public attention that was about to bear down on Arizona's new recruit, Bobbi Olson, Lute's wife, insisted that Steve stay at his coach's home. He slept there for two nights. "[Lute] had lost his father, so he told me his story, which was really helpful," Kerr says. "He just wanted to give me space to do whatever I wanted. I felt like the best thing to do was just to play, get away from it."

"I thought he would take a couple of weeks off," Olson tells B/R Mag, "but we had a game against Arizona State later that week."

What could have been just another conference battle against the rival Sun Devils became the impromptu christening of a folk hero. There was a tear-filled pregame moment of silence, after which Kerr, who was averaging just 5.9 points, got subbed in earlier than usual.

With 13 minutes remaining in the first half, Kerr let his first shot fly from about 25 feet out.


Then he popped another from 15 feet, a bankshot from the right side.

Off the glass. Nothing but nylon.

Arizona won in a blowout, 71-49, and Kerr dropped a career-high 12 points. He walked off the court to a standing ovation. And starting on that day, after each of Kerr's baskets, the Wildcats' public address announcer, Roger Sedlmayr, let out a bellowing cry: "Steeeeeeeeeeve Kerrrrrrrrrr!"

And the crowd reciprocated each time: Steeeeeeeeeeve Kerrrrrrrrrr!

The semifinal matchup of the FIBA World Championship was approaching—July 17, 1986, in Spain—and Arizona's senior-to-be was trying to prove he could ball with the best young college players from the United States.

His teammate Sean Elliott was there, but so were blue chips like Navy's David Robinson and Pitt's Charles Smith. Since USA Basketball had picked the 51-year-old Olson, of all people, as the superteam's coach, some players found the presence of his 14.4-points-per-game point guard rather puzzling. "I didn't know anything about him at all," Smith says of Kerr. "I actually thought he was on the team just because Lute Olson was the coach."

Kerr is now known as one of the greatest shooters of all time, but his early days at Arizona were unremarkable.
Kerr is now known as one of the greatest shooters of all time, but his early days at Arizona were unremarkable.(Getty Images)

In the semifinals against Brazil, though, Kerr was making long jumpers with precision and endearing himself to the bigs by feeding them in the paint. He was just trying to help.

With the United States up by 11 and 4:10 to go, Kerr looked to dish to Smith, but a defender cut in front, so Kerr was forced to reorient his body in mid-air, torquing his right knee and landing in a way legs were not meant to land.


Kerr collapsed under the basket, writhing with a freshly torn ACL and MCL.

His screams transcended language; Smith and the Brazilian superstar Oscar Schmidt carried him off the floor.

The U.S. won gold, but Kerr was already back in America by then, prepping for surgery. Before he flew out with a fistful of Tylenol with codeine to numb the pain, Kerr was told by USA Basketball team physician Tim Taft that, well, he might never play basketball again—like, ever.

"I'm thinking," Kerr says now with a laugh, "Thanks a lot, doc. Thanks for the pep talk."

Seriously: If Kerr's ill-timed leap had happened just five years earlier, his NBA career would have been over before it started. "With a big injury like that for a point guard, at that time," Taft says, "it would not have been at all surprising for that to have been a career-ending injury." But Kerr got a more favorable second opinion from Frank Jobe, who pioneered Tommy John surgery for baseball pitchers, since ligament reconstruction had progressed to the point where surgery and rehab could do wonders, albeit without any guarantees.

Kerr got every assurance that he would be back playing in nine months, but he'd have to sit out the Wildcats' 1986-87 season with a medical exemption. During that time, he became their de facto student coach. "We thought we were going to be really good, so it was a tough blow to the team when he went down," says Bruce Fraser, the Warriors assistant coach who played his senior season for Arizona with Kerr relegated to the sideline. "When he was off that year, he wasn't on the floor coaching, but I think he's always thought he would coach."

With Kerr's return, Arizona was virtually unstoppable in the 1987-88 season. The Wildcats were cocky, too, with personality to spare. The starters recorded a music video of themselves flowing one of those cheesy raps that became popular for a time with '80s sports teams. (Kerr's own verse: "Give Kerr the ball/Give Kerr a hand/I'll drill it in from three-point laaaaaand.")

The winter felt like an extended coronation, the national championship a fait accompli—and the player-coach was ready for his primetime breakout. But then came Oklahoma in the Final Four—April 2, 1988. The NCAA had introduced the three-point line while Kerr was rehabbing, and he quickly became one of its biggest beneficiaries. Entering the national semifinal, he had made 112 of 187 threes—a preposterous success rate of 59.9 percent. (Stephen Curry has never shot even 46 percent in his life.)

But against Oklahoma's press, Kerr missed 10 of 12 attempts from deep and played the worst game of his college career.

"I got completely off track, just not being in rhythm," Kerr says. "It was the pressure of the moment. I kept firing away, I kept trying to find it, but I couldn't find it. Without a doubt—not even close—the most frustrating game of my life."

Kerr was convinced he'd let down not just his team but also his mother, who spent 24 hours airport-hopping her way from Cairo to Kansas City to see him play. "I made about 30 in a row in warmups," Kerr told reporters in a 45-minute session after the loss. "Maybe I used them all up."

Yes, Steve Kerr's got jokes. After all, that Saturday night wasn't the worst pain he had endured—not nearly—and neither was that Father's Day last spring when the Warriors began to process what had just happened—the epic fail, the sight of LeBron James with another trophy—in the NBA Finals.

"Nobody died," Kerr says of the 3-1 collapse. "It's not the end of the world. It's devastating, but it's devastating as a brief moment. It's not going to last forever."

Those closest to Kerr, however, say that Final Four flameout still haunts him:

(B/R Mag)

(Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the new B/R app for more sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.)

The NBA: A Secret Rage, a Tipping Point, a Time to Walk Away

Steve Kerr was screaming in Stacey King's face like Draymond Green on two hours of sleep, an eight-inch height disparity be damned. "Here he is, the smallest dude on the floor, and he's in my face," King says. "I literally grabbed him by the throat, like, Dude, I will kill you."

Four frustrating years in the NBA hadn't done much for Kerr's disposition. Off the court, he and his wife, Margot (whom he'd met at Arizona on a blind date), had just found out they were expecting their first child that fall.

Kerr's pro career, though, had stalled quickly. The Suns were accused of drafting him late in the second round as a publicity stunt, even if head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons' favorite saying—You can never have too many shooters—gave Kerr hope the situation was favorable for him. "They believed that as an organization, that you draft shooting," he says. "And so if you can do that with someone—what the hell?—take a chance."

General manager Jerry Colangelo fully believed Kerr deserved a shot at the NBA. "He had enough skill," Colangelo says. "His great shooting ability was enough to warrant that opportunity."

The following year, he traded Kerr to Cleveland for scraps.

Kerr bounced around a few teams in the NBA before making his mark with the Chicago Bulls.
Kerr bounced around a few teams in the NBA before making his mark with the Chicago Bulls.(Getty Images)

Then came Game 5 of the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals—a contentious series, with Cavs forward Danny Ferry throwing a punch at Michael Jordan during Game 4. Two days later, the Bulls were biding their time, waiting for a chance to retaliate. With 1:02 left and Chicago cruising to a win, King clobbered Ferry and was immediately ejected.

Before the benches could clear, there was Kerr, "calling me all kinds of names," King remembers. "Just bush league." Kerr had only played three minutes that night and would ride the bench for all of Game 6 as the Cavs were eliminated two games short of the Finals.

"He's got a hidden temper," King says. "All of us have tempers, but you don't expect it from a guy like him, a guy who's articulate, a guy who's so even-keeled. When you watch him and talk to him, he's got a great sense of humor, he has a great understanding of society, things that are going on in the world. He's very intelligent, but beneath all that, man, I tell you, there's a competitive nature. There's a rage there, and he can control it, but he wants to win at everything he does:

(B/R Mag)

At 27 years old, Kerr was already contemplating retirement—or at least life after the NBA. He'd been traded just a month into the 1992-93 season to Orlando, so he headed south with Margot and their newborn son to play with a phenomenal rookie center named Shaquille O'Neal, as well as former college teammate Tom Tolbert. "He was a little down at points that year," Tolbert says. "When Steve didn't play well or wasn't playing at all, he's not real happy with the situation."

The summer of 1993 came and went without any team offering him an open roster spot. "I figured I would go into coaching," Kerr says. "I was going to call Lute and see if he could hire me."

Olson says he "obviously" would've hired Kerr, but—call it life getting in the way, or destiny, or just that Jordan's sudden retirement left the Chicago offense a little short-handed—then came the Bulls.

It was Kerr's insistence, he says, that convinced Chicago to sign him on the cheap. "John Paxson was retiring," Kerr says. "I played a lot like him, and I knew I could fit in."

General manager Jerry Krause agreed, and Kerr considers that moment the "tipping point" of his career.

Kerr was ready to go into coaching before convincing the Bulls to sign him in 1993.
Kerr was ready to go into coaching before convincing the Bulls to sign him in 1993.(Getty Images)

Under Phil Jackson's tutelage, Kerr played 25 minutes a game in his first year and became a 50 percent shooter. In year two, he set a new NBA record for three-point percentage in a season at 52.4, a mark that stood for 15 years.

In the fall of 1995, with His Airness back in Bulls training camp, Kerr and Jordan had a notorious fistfight in practice. But their bond outweighed the cost of a shiner. "From that point on, I've always respected him," Jordan told ESPN years ago. "He didn't give up; he fought back. He may have gotten the worst end of it, but I respected him."

"Playing with Jordan and getting that kind of exposure," Kerr says, "playing in those big games, changes your profile—and reputation."

Then came Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals at the United Center—fourth quarter, tied at 86, 28 seconds left—the second favorite moment of Kerr's career.

Everyone assumed, as everyone always did, that the ball would go to No. 23, who had followed his 38-point Flu Game in Salt Lake City with 39 in front of the delirious home crowd.

But during the Bulls' final timeout, Jordan looked two chairs down to Kerr and mumbled, under his breath and from beneath the cover of his Gatorade cup, for No. 25 to be ready.

"If he comes off," Kerr shouted back, referring to his defender, Utah's John Stockton, "I'll be ready."

Jordan, already looking away, nodded.

Kerr passed to Scottie Pippen, who dished to Jordan. And Jordan, as usual, was looking to score. Sure enough, Stockton cut over for the double-team, leaving Jordan to contort his body in mid-air.

Kerr was wide open near the top of the key—so open that he popped the 19-foot title-winner with a peaceful precision.

Nothing but net.

Jordan, of course, would be Finals MVP and fully get over the flu, but not before giving his former sparring partner a double high-five.

"Tonight," Jordan said afterward, "Steve Kerr earned his wings."

“Playing with Jordan and getting that kind of exposure,” Kerr says, “playing in those big games, changes your profile—and reputation.”
“Playing with Jordan and getting that kind of exposure,” Kerr says, “playing in those big games, changes your profile—and reputation.”(Getty Images)

At the post-parade celebration, Kerr explained how the game-winner was drawn up: "Michael said, 'You know, Phil, I don't feel real comfortable in these situations, so maybe we ought to go in another direction.'"

Kerr shrugged and smiled. "So I thought to myself, Well, I guess I gotta bail Michael out again."

By the time Kerr was 37 years old, he had won four titles and still had value as a locker room guy, but his knees were killing him: "I could feel my body breaking down."

In his second stint in San Antonio, Kerr took to calling himself "Ted"—a drop in playing time had him relating to the cryogenically preserved Ted Williams.

But even as he played fewer than 13 minutes a game, Kerr still knocked down 40 percent of his threes. Without having to worry about playing for a contract—"I didn't anticipate anybody would be dumb enough to offer me another"—Kerr played for joy, for every moment on the court he had left.

Then Gregg Popovich called his number one last time.

The Spurs were a game away from the 2003 Finals—and giving their opponent new life. They had been up 3-1 in the conference finals over Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash's Mavericks but lost Game 5 after blowing a 17-point second-half lead. Game 6 back in Dallas wasn't going any better.

Thanks to some bad creme brulee from room service the night before, Tony Parker was at less than full capacity. Popovich subbed in Kerr for the first time all night with 3:44 left in the third.

Kerr promptly assisted on a Stephen Jackson three, then made one of his own, a high-arching shot from the corner. And thus began the favorite moment of his career.

"When he was called on, that man came up huge," David Robinson says. "We were having a blast with it, because that was so Steve. He's just that guy. That's why Michael Jordan called on him. If there's anybody you can count on, you need somebody to trust, he’s the guy.”
"When he was called on, that man came up huge," David Robinson says. "We were having a blast with it, because that was so Steve. He's just that guy. That's why Michael Jordan called on him. If there's anybody you can count on, you need somebody to trust, he’s the guy.”(Getty Images)

"Somebody closed out on me really hard," he says. "Sometimes when you make a shot with a lot of arc, you kind of get in your cage quickly. In a weird way, you just sort of get tuned in."

With 10 minutes to play and the Spurs behind by 12, Kerr assisted on a Manu Ginobili three, then another Jackson three. After another triple by Jackson, the Mavs were up only three.

Off a pass from Ginobili, Kerr nailed a straightaway bomb to tie the game.

Then he hit another three-pointer.

And another.

When Nick Van Exel's layup with 2:51 left finally halted a 23-0 run by the Spurs, Dallas had been held scoreless for more than eight minutes and was down by eight. Kerr finished with 12 points, his highest output in more than six months. A 3-1 fail averted, San Antonio once again reached the Finals, which it handily won in six games.

Kerr retired—"Feeling that pressure, feeling success," he says, "it was the perfect time to walk away"—as the most accurate three-point shooter in NBA history. He remains so to this day.

"You had to be there to understand what this moment meant for all of us," Robinson, who was also retiring, says of Kerr's conference finals magic. "Here's a guy who wasn't playing at all. He hadn't sniffed the court. But when he was called on, that man came up huge. We were having a blast with it, because that was so Steve. He's just that guy. That's why Michael Jordan called on him. If there's anybody you can count on, you need somebody to trust, he's the guy."

Popovich, then as now, was not surprised either. "The guy is there before and after practice, running and shooting until he's dripping wet," he told reporters before the '03 Finals. "He hasn't stopped practicing every day, working every day, even though he hasn't played."

"Life is too short to be with jerks," Popovich added. "This is a business, and it's not the most important thing in the world."

No, you can never have too many shooters.

And, no, Kerr does not think basketball is the most important thing in the world, or that his team's very public failure to win another title last year—the seventh ring coming down to the seventh game—was the end of it. "You'll wish that you had won that game forever," Kerr says of the Game 7 loss to his former team. "But you go home and you have dinner with your family and you take a vacation and you remember it's not life or death."

(B/R Mag)

(Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the new B/R app for more sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.)

The Warriors: A Smile, a Season Silenced, a Man in Full

"How I'd love to feel whatever the hell you're feeling right now, just once in my life."

Steve Kerr meant it when he said this to Curry during the Warriors' throttling of the Los Angeles Clippers in late January. Against the franchise that knocked Golden State from the 2014 playoffs and ushered in Kerr to his first coaching job, Curry had hit nine three-pointers...in the first three quarters.

"For me," Kerr told him, "if I went, like, 5-for-6 and made four threes, that was about the best I ever did." If Kerr is tickled by how much better Curry is than he ever was, it's because he knows the fickle, uncontrollable whims of the basketball gods. When your shot is falling in, you say thank you very much and start the next game anew.

Fast-forward six weeks and Curry looks like he's losing confidence in his shot. He's missed 32 of his last 37 threes, including five of six from deep on a Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks.

Of course, this is Golden State, and the Warriors simply should not lose. But Kerr's magic as a coach is no more valuable than when the shots aren't falling, when he can channel his father's enduring ethos: No B.S.

Even the back-to-back MVP needs a pep talk sometimes.
Even the back-to-back MVP needs a pep talk sometimes.(Getty Images)

So Kerr grabs the first quarter box score to get Curry's attention. "That's your shooting totals," he says as he points at the 2-of-8 mark, then slides his finger over to the right. "That's your plus/minus." Curry's point differential reads plus-11—his impact greater than anyone else's on the court. Kerr waits a beat for this fact to register with Curry, who lets out a sheepish laugh.

"All right?" says Kerr, also smiling. "It's not always tied together. You're doing some great stuff out there. The tempo is so different when you're out there. Everything you generate for us is so positive. It shows up here"—pointing again at the plus/minus—"not always there"—back at the shooting totals—"but it always shows up here. You're doing great."

As Curry heads back into the game, Kerr puts aside the piece of paper and cries out, "Carry on, my son!"

Forty seconds later, Curry corrals the ball and crosses over into a stepback three. After sealing another Warriors victory late in the fourth with a crossover and 22-footer over Carmelo Anthony, Curry told a national TV audience, "I don't ever lose confidence."

Kerr still remembers the silence. Just as he had missed 10 three-pointers in the Final Four against Oklahoma nearly half a lifetime ago, so had Curry—but on a very, very big stage. Within minutes of Cleveland's Finals victory 10 months ago, most of the hallways deep inside Oracle Arena had turned funereal. Beverage carts filled with alcohol and mixers were wheeled out of the friends-and-family room, far fuller than anyone expected them to be.

But a few feet away, you could hear ecstasy emanating from the back door to the visitors' locker room.

Over the course of one night, every Warriors player, coach, executive and fan had endured the most visceral pain they'd felt after one game—like, ever.

But it was still just one game.

"We were right there at the end, but that's life," Kerr says. "You move on.”
"We were right there at the end, but that's life," Kerr says. "You move on.”(Getty Images)

"You can't control a lot of stuff," Kerr says. "You control what you can control, but the year before, Cleveland had the injuries. Last year, the injuries didn't go our way and the suspension. Those aren't excuses; it's just the realization that it's really hard and you do whatever you can but that you can't control everything."

He didn't even bother cutting the silence, not with lessons from his playing days and certainly not with a Steve Kerr joke.

"Not a whole lot you can say, other than how proud you are of the team and that there's a reason you celebrate as crazily as you do when you win, because it's really hard. We were right there at the end, but that's life. You move on."

He is right here, right now, with every chance for redemption—including, but not limited to, the addition of a now-healthy Durant—but Kerr says he does not mine that Game 7 loss, that bit of inconvenient history, for motivation. "I don't think it's this mission, like, Oh my god, we got to make up for what happened. That's how fans look at it," he says. "That's how the media looks at it: You got to make amends, you got to make up for a 3-1 collapse. It doesn't work that way. You just go out and play and do your best."

Kerr knows all too well how life can get in the way of even the surest thing, but the coach of—no hype here—the most talented basketball team ever assembled is ready to accept whatever outcome this year's NBA playoffs produce.

Of winning a championship, he says: "We're all aware that it's really hard and there are a lot of other teams that are really good and they want to win, too."

Of the Warriors winning the championship this year, Kerr tells B/R Mag: "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But we're not going to turn it into some dramatic saga."

“The Warriors have taken a 1-0 first-round lead over the Portland Trailblazers in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.”
“The Warriors have taken a 1-0 first-round lead over the Portland Trailblazers in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.”(Getty Images)

A few smashed whiteboards and choice words for Donald Trump notwithstanding, Kerr has largely avoided drama and maintained his legendary cool this season, and the Warriors have thrived.

That controversial primetime loss in San Antonio back in March, with all the rest? Golden State won 14 in a row after that. The Warriors' 207 regular-season wins under Kerr are more than any NBA team has ever had across three seasons. And don't forget that Golden State did win the title two years ago—"probably the best night of my life," Kerr says, "and I've had a lot of good ones"—even if it did lead to a debilitating (and still lingering) back injury, one of very few things that has not gone his way these last several years.

When you ask Kerr's buddy Fraser whether the Warriors' cascading fortune is an example of how good things can happen to good people, he thinks for a moment and laughs: "I feel like good things happen to Steve Kerr."

That it all seems to work out somehow for Kerr might seem fortuitous, but his dominant run with Golden State—again, just three years in—makes sense. In Curry and Klay Thompson, he's mentoring two shooters even better than himself. In Green, he's coaching a hothead who plays bigger than his size. In JaVale McGee, he's redeemed a career that was headed straight to nowhere. In Andre Iguodala and David West, he's sculpting coaches of the future.

At one time or another, Kerr has been all those guys.

"When I look at Steve, here was a guy who was a starter every now and then, but he was also a sixth or seventh man," says Smith, the nine-year NBA veteran who played with Kerr when his knee gave out in Spain. "Steve had breakfast, lunch and dinner with the starters as well as that 14th and 15th man on the team, so he doesn't have a myopic view. He's got a full view."

And Kerr's view can be universally applied because his approach is rooted in, well, fun. Because even after the deepest of disappointments, after life and death, you can always embrace the joy that brought you to basketball in the first place.

"Most players will tolerate their coach, just like the coach will tolerate that player to do what they got to do, but Steve Kerr is unique," says Armstrong, his former teammate in Chicago. "Players want to play for Steve Kerr. Everyone who's played in this league, who's coached in this league, who's been a general manager understands exactly what I'm saying—he's one of them."

Win or lose, through heartbreak and heroics, Steve Kerr's persistence has always carried him, especially when expectations are—yes!—just a little high.


Erik Malinowski covers the Warriors for B/R. His book, Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @erikmal.

Click here to get B/R Mag on the go in the new B/R app for more sports storytelling worth your time, wherever you are.