Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr knows how Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka is feeling as they prepare their teams for the NBA Finals.
Udoka has accomplished a rare feat leading his team to the NBA Finals in his first season, and it’s an accomplishment Kerr knows all too well. It seems like ages ago when the Golden State Warriors took a chance at one of the once-great NBA shooters.
Steve Kerr’s journey to become a head coach with 0 coaching experience
Kerr had literally zero coaching experience in the NBA when the Warriors named him head coach in 2014 and he led Golden State to an NBA title, where he managed a 4-2 triumph over LeBron James-led and David Blatt-coached Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Kerr picked Golden State over the New York Knicks, who had also offered him their head coaching position in 2014. Kerr had dialogue with the Knicks and New York was a strong offer from his former coach Phil Jackson, who was the Knicks’ president at the time.
Saying no to Jackson was hard, but the decision to join the Warriors felt right. Jackson was disappointed but ultimately wished his former player the best, advising him to follow his heart.
It was not an easy decision, but the former sharpshooter has always had an eye for greatness.
It did not take long for Kerr to have success.
In his first year, Kerr had a dream run as a rookie head coach in the regular season, finishing with a 67-15 record in the West and eventually leading Golden State Warriors to the NBA title later that season in 2015, which featured Andre Iguodala famously winning the Finals MVP.
Steve Kerr reflects on “that” Finals feeling
“I think like anything else, the first time you feel something, first time you do something, there’s an unknown and a mystery about it, which makes it even more exciting in a lot of ways. You know, the first time that I went to the Finals as a player, it was kind of the same feeling”, Kerr reflected on prior to game one the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
“Then if you’re lucky enough to do it again, you feel like – all right, I know what to expect. It’s a little different vibe, but it’s still really exciting to be part of just knowing that this is the pinnacle, this is what we are all trying to accomplish. So to be back here again is an amazing feeling.”
Kerr was lucky enough to do it again, and again, and again, and well.. again. It was the start of 5 straight NBA Finals appearances for Kerr’s Warriors.
In 2016, Kerr’s Warriors set an all-time NBA record with a 73-9 regular season finish.
Kerr is no stranger to greatness, either. As a player, he won 5 NBA championships, three with the Chicago Bulls and two more with San Antonio.
As a head coach, he already has three – with a shot at a fourth in the 2022 NBA Finals.
As a teenager, he grew up watching greatness in the suburbs of Los Angeles, watching great Lakers teams, and he even watched the very franchise he will face in the Finals this year.
Steve Kerr takes a trip down the memory lane
“Yeah, I grew up watching Magic and Bird go at it in the ’80s. I was sitting literally in the last row of the Forum when Kevin McHale took out Kurt Rambis and changed the series. I think that was ’84, if I’m not mistaken”, Kerr recalled before the Finals opener.
“And some of my favorite memories as a player were playing in Boston Garden. I remember starting a game early in my career — we had a couple guys injured — and going out to half court and bumping fists. Larry Bird actually said, “Good luck, Steve.” I was like, “You, too, Larry.” I was like, what is happening right now? (laughter) It was surreal! It was thrilling to be on the Garden floor. So there’s a mystique that exists with the Celtics for sure. Incredible franchise, incredible history.”
The very franchise Kerr wanted to lose as a kid now stands in the way of another championship and he appreciates the irony.
“And for me, just having grown up watching those games and being a fan, it’s pretty cool to be coaching in the Finals against them,” Kerr said before game one of the NBA Finals.
Thanks in large part to Kerr’s leadership, the Warriors are making their eighth playoff appearance in the last 10 seasons and this is the franchise’s 12th appearance in the NBA Finals, third-most in NBA history, behind only the Lakers and Celtics.
In only his 8th season with Golden State, Kerr has already been named as one of the 15 Greatest Coaches in NBA History and his .733 winning percentage in the post-season is the highest winning percentage (all-time) among NBA head coaches that have coached a minimum of 25 playoff games.
Not a bad run for a guy who had zero coaching experience before 2014.
Q. Who do you think will win the 2022 NBA Finals?