Where Steve Kerr comes from, seeing Celtic green meant you’d actually see red.
He was there, inside the Forum, in 1984 when Kevin McHale wrapped his arm around Kurt Rambis’ neck and slung him onto the court in Game 4 of the Finals. He heard the “Boston sucks” chants fill the air.
Kerr lived all of this just like anyone who loved basketball in Los Angeles in the early ‘80s. .
“I grew up watching Magic and Bird go at it,” Kerr said.
Thursday, for the first time in his career, Kerr will get a chance to meet the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. And while fandom (and in this case, probably hatred) get stripped away once people become professionals, those Showtime battles with the Celtics left an imprint on Kerr.
“Some of my favorite memories as a player were playing in Boston Garden. I remember starting a game early in my career … 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?’ It was surreal.”
These Finals offer a bit of that feeling for a young Boston team that was undoubtedly influenced from the Warriors’ basketball revolution that began with Golden State’s 2015 championship.
“Just watching those guys first was pretty cool to see,” said Jaylen Brown, who spent a year at Cal. “Between Steph, Klay and Draymond, probably the winningest basketball players in this last 10 years’ era.”
That era, of course, seemed very over after 2019 when Golden State lost to Toronto in the Finals. The Warriors had made it to the Finals for five consecutive years before missing out the last two.
Klay Thompson suffered a serious knee injury, followed by an even more serious Achilles injury. Stephen Curry broke his hand and missed nearly an entire year. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn, all halting the Warriors’ grasp on the Western Conference and the NBA.
But the stoppage turned out only to be a pause. This is the Warriors’ sixth trip to the NBA Finals in the past eight years.
The team reasserted itself as a force this season, its core finally back intact and healthy. Alongside them were some of the spoils from the rapid rebuild. The team turned Durant’s departure into D’Angelo Russell, and it quickly flipped him to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick (they later selected Jonathan Kuminga).
The losing opened pathways for a player such as Jordan Poole to find his way into a role on the team as a new generation “Splash Brother” — a supremely confident guard willing and capable of trying to score from anywhere.
“All that stuff is just built into the context of what’s happened since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals,” Curry said, “and we’re back here.”
“So it’s pretty special.”
For Boston, they’re much closer to the 2015 version of the Warriors than the 2022 one.
They’re young and tough and skilled — not dissimilar to how Curry, Green and Thompson initiated the beginning of their reign.
Since he entered the league in 2018, Jayson Tatum and Boston had made two trips to the Eastern Conference finals. Both were losses. He and Brown finally broke through in Game 7 last week in Miami after squandering a chance to close the series at home.
“I will always have unwavering faith even in the midst of situations that look like things are about to go in a direction that nobody wants to go in. I will always have faith in this group and in this organization and in myself that we’ll be all right,” Brown said. “In those moments where we lost, I knew that we had so much to learn and that I had so much to learn.”
And those lessons can come in a variety ways — whether you’re on the court or in the stands. Klay Thompson was in the crowd the last time the Celtics played in the Finals — in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
“Life comes full circle now being able to play them in the Finals,” Thompson said. “I was watching them in college, Game 7, at Staples, with my dad in 2010. And now it’s 12 years later, and I get to play the team that I was rooting against.