OAKLAND — On the stage and in the locker room, there was spraying champagne, hugs, and tears from the Golden State Warriors. After a long season, their emotions overflowed upon winning an NBA championship.
None more than coach Steve Kerr.
He wasn’t sure he would be on that stage with Adam Silver just a couple weeks ago — not because of the team, but because his health kept him off the court. The back problems that sidelined him last season had resurfaced and forced him back on an operating table to stop a slow leak of spinal fluid. He loved coaching this team so much, he loved this group of players so much, he had endured a lot of pain to stay on the sidelines with them, until it got to be too much. When he stepped away two games into the playoffs he wasn’t sure if or when he could return.
Did all that make him more emotional after winning?
“Yeah, yeah, for sure,” Kerr said from the podium. “Winning is… winning is fantastic. I’ve been so lucky to be part of so many championship teams as a player and now as a coach, and it never gets old. But tonight was a little different, just based on the things I’ve had to go through during this time.”
Cameras caught Kerr crying and collapsing into the arms of Warriors GM — and Kerr’s good friend — Bob Myers. It was a personal moment, one that showed the depth of emotion and how much this seventh ring (five as a player, now two as a coach) meant to Kerr. This one was harder, and almost taken away from him.
The Warriors’ players, to a man, respect Kerr.
“Well, Steve is just, he’s got a great brain,” said Andre Iguodala, the man Kerr calls the adult on the team. “It’s always working. He’s trying to figure everything out like, okay, I know what I got, I know how to get the best out of each one of these guys. But we’re going to take it to the next level. He’s always trying to take it to the next layer, the next layer. It’s like an onion, keep peeling it back. It’s so intricate.”
Veteran NBA coach Mike Brown had slid into the big chair and kept it warm for Kerr while he was sidelined. Kerr was the architect of the Warriors, he built the home, Brown saw himself as the renter just trying not to get a big stain on the carpet so he got his deposit back. But Brown also learned something about Kerr through all of this.
“The one thing I didn’t realize — I coached Steve as a player. I didn’t know he was as competitive as he is,” Brown said. “He is a fiery, blond-haired, blue-eyed, All-American dude. But he is fiery. To see his passion and to feel his passion all year and then to be able to have him lead us these last games was unbelievable. An unbelievable feeling for him, an unbelievable feeling for me and an unbelievable feeling for the team.
“This is how it should’ve ended. Just like this.”