San Francisco Chronicle

Offering a song of praise for Kerr


So, set ’em up, Joe, I got a little story you oughta know ...

Ah, forget it. Even Sinatra couldn’t sing us out of this one. We don’t want to be melancholy and introspect­ive about the end of the Warriors’ great episode. We want to yell about Festus Ezeli being in the game in that fourth quarter, and Stephen Curry sitting on the bench four minutes ...

Like everyone else, I’m convinced I could have coached a better fourth quarter than Steve

Kerr did. I’m not so sure I could have done as well as Kerr the other 827 quarters he coached, last season and this, or handled as well as he did the other minor details — running practices, formulatin­g game plans, designing a new offense and defense, coaching every second with skillful intensity while simultaneo­usly backing off and letting the players play, and dealing with the smoking volcano, Mount Draymond.

By the way, it must be tough on Kerr to be the whipping coach of every person on the planet, but I guarantee you this: He absolutely understand­s and accepts criticism, even when it is knee-jerky and ill-informed, as part of the job.

A bit more than two years ago, the Warriors’ bosses — led by co-owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers — flew into Oklahoma City and stole Kerr away from Phil Jackson and the Knicks. That eventually might go down as the greatest sports heist in history.

If I’m ranking all the coaches and managers I’ve covered in a quick four decades in sports, completely disregardi­ng how they treated me and the media, I would rank Kerr No. 1.

Kerr has made it look easy, but a closer look at the beginning shows it wasn’t easy. He had to win over an entire team and its fans.

“Everyone in this league is skeptical of everyone,” assistant coach Bruce Fraser told me during the season. “When you show up, Steve and the staff, (the players) aren’t looking at you like, ‘Yippee, this is a new regime. These guys are going to be incredible!’ ”

If you think NBA players have cool headphones, you should see their BS detectors.

“You know (Kerr) now,” Fraser said, “he doesn’t have a big ego. It’s not even like a humbleness. He’s confident. You can be arrogant and sort of hide it by being humble, but it’s really all about you.

“That’s not who he is, but it takes time for everyone to believe that. You don’t just come in and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t about me,’ and all of a sudden, people are, ‘Oh, cool, it’s not about him.’ That’s not how it works.”

How it works is you come into the organizati­on with a solid plan and an open mind, and work like a dog to remake the team without stamping your name all over it.

One underappre­ciated thing Kerr did was make sure Stephen Curry was cool with the transition. Curry was one unhappy dude when the Warriors fired Mark Jackson, who helped Curry profession­ally and personally, and led the Warriors out of the dark ages. Curry is no high-maintenanc­e diva, but without his acceptance, Kerr was screwed.

Kerr told me a few months ago, “Steph could have rebelled and said, ‘No, I’m not going to buy into this,’ and I would have been gone within a couple of months. Honestly, that’s just how the league works.”

Kerr came to Oakland with some radical ideas. Players rolled their eyes at the simplistic, repetitive drills, and Kerr’s difficult-to-master rhythmand-flow offense didn’t always rhyme or flow. The coaching plans and dreams he built for several years could have blown up like a burrito cooked too long in the microwave.

“Coming out of training camp (Kerr’s first season), it was not pretty,” Myers told me. And former assistant coach Luke Walton said, “It was a slow, sloppy process.”

Kerr was quietly relentless. You can’t simply tell players to believe. There’s a skill to that, an art bordering on magic.

Maybe the Warriors would have won it all last season and been in the Finals this season under Jackson, or Stan Van Gundy, or some other coach. But while recognizin­g the greatness of Curry & Company, I say it doesn’t happen without Kerr.

Kerr’s outlook on life has played a huge part in the success. Even through a season of killer headaches, Kerr didn’t stop demanding that the players enjoy what they’re doing, embrace the joy and the fun.

There’s not a lot of joy floating around these days, but this column opened with Sinatra, so let’s close with Garth Brooks, dealing with a breakup. “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

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