Steve Kerr, Coaching Resource

(Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN (

You know the story. Phil Jackson drew the play up for Jordan. But as the Bulls left the huddle, Jordan turned to Kerr and said, “They’re going to double me. When they do, I’m coming to you.” They had grown to respect each other since Kerr gave as good as he got in a 1995 training camp scuffle with Jordan. It’s the classic Steve Kerr-is tougher-than-he-looks story. Kerr’s sick of it. He bristles when you bring it up.

“It was just a practice fight,” he says. “I think the fact I made it in the NBA for 15 years with this body and this ability — or lack thereof — should speak for itself.”

True. Respect is earned over time, not by throwing a punch. But the story resonates for a reason: If Kerr had been man enough to stand up to the best player of his generation, Jordan knew he would be man enough to take a game-winning shot in the Finals.

At some point, a coach has to command his team. The challenge is in knowing how and when to take charge. Wait too long and the team won’t respect you. Drive too hard and they’ll resist.

There were complicated dynamics when Kerr took over at Golden State. While team ownership felt a coaching change had been needed, and some in the organization had grown weary of Mark Jackson’s us-against-the-world style, Kerr knew Jackson was immensely popular with his players.

So he took his time, letting the team breathe a little during training camp and even into the first few weeks of the season. “I allowed them to make a lot of mistakes in the beginning,” Kerr says. “I didn’t want to come in and be all Bobby Knight, yelling and screaming from day one.”

“They had the confidence,” Kerr says. “They had the swagger. The challenge [was] how to add the mindfulness. How do we add – what’s the right word? — the purpose?”

“He’s a thinker,” says Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser, who doubles as one of Kerr’s best friends since college. “Before he walks into that locker room, that meeting … he’s thought about everything he’s going to say and do for a long time.

“What you don’t want for the discipline to affect the swagger,” Kerr says. What makes players like Curry and Nash so great is their fearlessness. When they’re rolling, it’s like watching someone weaving in and out of traffic, driving 90 miles an hour, and knowing that they’re never going to hit anything. There’s a control to it. As if they see things with some third eye that others don’t. That’s the mindfulness Kerr had to help Curry find.

“Any time a player knows a coach has his back, and that he’s going to allow him to live through his mistakes long enough to learn from them …. he’s going to give his all for him,” Dell Curry said. “That’s something he and Steve got to really quickly.”

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