East Bay Person of the Year: An Unselfish Warrior

Steve Kerr is a champion both on and off the court, but he never takes the credit.


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Photo by D. Ross Cameron

The next day, Warriors executives jetted to a private airport in Oaklahoma City, where Kerr had gone to provide commentary for a game on TNT. Lacob and crew were impressed when Kerr arrived with a 60-page document filled with details about what he would do as a coach, who he wanted to hire, and what kind of offense and defense styles he would employ.

“We all met for 3½  hours, and we were all blown away by his presentation and his style,” Lacob said. “He’s just a very prepared, thoughtful, reasoned, smart, intelligent human being.

Kerr accepted a five-year, $25 million contract, and the Warriors have never looked back, Lacob said. “He is one of the truly great coaches of our time. I hope he will be the Warriors coach for a long, long time,” Lacob said. “We look forward to that.”

In his first year with the Warriors, Kerr broke the NBA record for the most regular season wins for a rookie coach, and Golden State won the 2015 NBA title. Throughout, Kerr emphasized his good luck in inheriting a team with great players.

The next year, Kerr was unable to coach for months with back surgery complications, but the Warriors broke the record for the most wins in an NBA season. Kerr was named Coach of the Year, though he said it made no sense that he got credit for the many games won while his then-assistant, Luke Walton, was filling in for him. That season, and the next, the team returned to the finals, losing in 2016 but winning in 2017, when Kerr also missed several playoff games because of excruciating headaches stemming from two back surgeries.

The team, meanwhile, became famous for having fun, displaying an unselfish style of play, and using an effective passing game that showcased numerous players’ strengths, along with the shooting abilities of marquee stars. In Kerr’s first three seasons coaching the team, the Warriors led the league in assists and were regarded as the most unselfish team in the NBA. As of press time, the Warriors were leading the league in assists again this season.

Bob Myers attributes some of Kerr’s poise and his success as a head coach to the practice of yoga—a passion that Myers shares. “He’s always talking about mindfulness, focus, and balance,” Myers said. “Yoga is wrapped up in all those elements.”

Kerr’s demeanor fits perfectly with an organization that already emphasized the value of openness and transparency, Lacob said. “He is a reflection of us, and we are a reflection of him,” Lacob said.

Kerr, Lacob added, “has a style of communicating with the players and a credibility that gets through to them.” He called Kerr a “master communicator” who is adept at managing relationships up and down the corporate chain and with the public.

“Just like he communicates well with the media and fans, he communicates well internally [with team players and managers]. That’s what truly makes him great at his job and a great human being. That is his greatest strength.”

Kerr gives a lot of credit for his success to the great coaches with whom he has worked, like Jackson and Gregg Popovich of the Spurs, another politically outspoken coach.

He has also talked repeatedly about the influence of his parents, who took a measured approach with him when he was a young athlete who had a tendency for temper tantrums following poor performances.

As a member of the advisory board of the Positive Coaching Alliance, Kerr tells how his parents would watch games quietly and only approach him afterward when he had calmed down to talk about changing his behavior. He, in turn, suggests that parents keep quiet when things get heated and avoid coaching from the stands.

As a professional coach, Kerr similarly has said his role is to set the tone for the team, to get them prepared, and then let them do their job during games. He is not prone to sideline histrionics, though last year he did smash a clipboard during a moment of frustration.

“He’s competitive as a coach as far as wanting us to be perfectionist every time we step out on the court, but he doesn’t let his pride get in the way. That’s hard to do,” said Kevin Durant, an NBA MVP who joined the Warriors’ in 2016 after being recruited by Kerr, Myers, and Lacob, and players Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. Last June, Durant was named Finals MVP after leading the Warriors to a 4-1 series victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Durant said Kerr is “always trying to get better. As a player, you can see that. He leads by example in that way.”

But Kerr is no pushover. Michael Jordan famously punched Kerr in the eye when he wouldn’t back down during a practice.

Kerr also has a sharp sense of humor. Recently he needled reporters about their need to tweet during press conferences by playing with a deck of cards after answering a question. “As soon as you’re done tweeting we’ll resume human contact. Ignore me,” he said dryly, shuffling.

Over the past year, Steve Kerr has repeatedly used his role as an NBA coach fielding near constant questions from reporters as a platform to speak his mind about political issues.

But, in truth, he has long showed a willingness to speak out on controversial matters. In 2010, while managing the Suns, he stirred up controversy by likening an Arizona immigration enforcement law requiring citizens to have proof of citizenship to Nazi policies.

Last year, Kerr spoke strongly in support of Kaepernick, who chose to kneel during the national anthem to protest the shooting of unarmed black men by police officers around the country.

While expressing understanding for people offended by Kaepernick’s actions, he supported the quarterback’s right to peacefully protest as something quintessentially American and said all people should be “disgusted” by the killings that concerned Kaepernick. Kerr has since called out NFL team owners for not hiring Kaepernick, allegedly out of worry about fan reactions, saying Kaepernick has been “blackballed.”

The intensity and frequency of Kerr’s pronouncements only increased after Trump became president. He said he feels compelled to speak out not because of politics, but for reasons of “human respect.”

Following Trump’s surprise election victory, Kerr talked about the difficulty of facing “the reality that the man who’s going to lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words.”

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