The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors made history by winning 73 games. In case you hadn’t heard, that was quite a lot. The team won so many games, that Steve Kerr won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, even though he missed 43 games to start the season (52.4% of total games played in the regular season). Luke Walton held down the fort magnificently, and then rode that experience off into the sunset of a nice, cushy LA Lakers job. However, Kerr was still very active behind the scenes, as he attended a bunch of shoot-arounds and practices as the Warriors got off to an historic start, winning their first 24 matches.
When Kerr won COY, he was understandably humbled and gracious about the award, heaping praise onto his top lieutenant. (Luketenant? Does that work? No? Okay, moving on.)
The other thing about Kerr is that the players absolutely love him. Not only do they enjoy playing in his free-wheeling, gorgeous offense, but they respect him as a man. Watch this easy, fun loving interaction between him and Draymond Green:
Also, and before we move too far ahead, let’s all watch this a thousand times (again).
But the larger question remains, even as we move forward into next season: How healthy is Kerr, and can he legitimately handle the work load of an entire NBA season? What will it take for him to regain his former swag and healthy bounce?
After undergoing a “routine” surgery after the 2014-15 season, Steve Kerr found himself battling ongoing pain, nausea, dizziness and other horrific symptoms after the doctor performing the surgery accidentally nicked his spinal column, causing fluid to leak into his body and bloodstream. It took months and months for him to even feel halfway normal again. After enduring what must have been a hellish experience, the fresh-faced coach has (rightly so) developed a deeper understanding of basketball’s place within the world.
Via ESPN (seriously, read this whole article, written by the fantastic Jackie MacMullen):
Back when his team was leading 3-1 in the Finals, Kerr rubbed his weary eyes during a practice and tried to put it in perspective.
"For a lack of a better way of putting it,'' Kerr said, gesturing toward the court, "this is all bulls---. It's so much fun, and it's rewarding to be part of a team, and to have a quest and to try and win a championship. It's great thinking we've established this legacy and hung a banner, and all of that is very important in terms of bringing joy to the fans' lives -- that's where the true importance of what we do lies -- but in the grand scheme of things, it's still bulls---. I've found that out.''
For a man who has spent his entire career in and around the game of basketball, that’s a large realization. Kerr possesses a sharp, brilliant intellect. His family history is inspiring and heartbreaking. If he wanted to, he could hold any job in the world. Can’t you just see him in the tech industry? Or even as a brilliant politician? Or, heck, I could see him as a forester, far removed from the turmoil of this world. You get the feeling with Kerr that he can accomplish anything. Perhaps that’s why it was so painful to see him struggling with his health, unable to make it through the basic motions of each day.
In the Finals, up 3-1, the Warriors were somehow unable to pull away. You can point to Draymond’s suspension, you can point to LeBron’s brilliance, you can point to Curry’s health. There were a thousand factors that laid the path for the Warriors to lose. Some people (way too many people) blamed Kerr for costing the Warriors a second championship because he played Anderson Varejao in Game 7.
Kerr really cost the team the NBA championship because he insisted on playing Anderson Varejao and Festus.— Edreese (@Edreese93) June 20, 2016
There’s no way to know for sure, and 100 times out of 100, I’d take Steve Kerr as head coach of the Warriors, even given his health concerns. But you did have to wonder... If you are constantly battling pain and nausea, how intense must it be, physically, to stand on a basketball court in the Finals with everything swirling around you—lights, players, camera men, reporters, family members who want free tickets, screaming fans—and have to try and shut out the noise? It seems like a terrifying place to be if you’re not 100%. There’s no way to know how he felt physically during the Finals, just as it is stupid to speculate about his decision making process.
But—and this is the larger point moving forward—he’s still not quite healthy.
From that same ESPN article:
"Steve is sick,'' [Bob] Myers says. "I don't think people realize what he's gone through, what he continues to go through. If you asked him would he rather win a second championship or get his health back, it wouldn't even be close. He'd want to get well again.
Kerr has money, and has the backing of the one of the world’s most famous and glamorous sporting teams. You feel like he’s in a position where eventually, someday, he’ll find some sort of resolution to his physical ailments. All we can hope, as Warriors fans, is that the resolution comes soon, and that he can return to his jovial, laughing, smiling, being-a-bad-ass ways sooner than later.
Because seeing Kerr in pain is not fun.
So, how was his year? Pretty awesome. He won a prestigious award, he took his team to the precipice of back-to-back titles, he presided over the first ever unanimous MVP campaign, and he somehow wooed Kevin Durant to the bay. But, the flip side of that was a season full of pain, unknown outcomes, and, ultimately, failure as the Warriors became the first team to ever lose in the Finals after going up 3-1.
Personally, I choose to commend him on his courage in the face of such pain, rather than nitpick about what tiny things went wrong.
Either way, I can’t wait to see how he decides to utilize Durant. Man... All those dudes on the court at the same time running his ball-movement-oriented offense? Yikes. What a world.