The Warriors completed an epic comeback last night, rallying from a 16 point deficit in the third quarter to claim a 3-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers. It was a gritty, character-defining performance from the league's best team. Unfortunately, Steve Kerr—emotional ballast, spiritual guru, and unquestioned captain of this vessel—was not in the building to witness the epic comeback. Instead, he was holed up in his hotel room, barely able to move.
Kerr's health problems have been well documented. Following the 2014-15 championship season, he elected to have routine back surgery to repair a herniated disk. However, the surgeon nicked Kerr’s spinal cord, and spinal fluid unknowingly leaked into his body for months, causing searing headaches, nausea, dizziness, and countless other horrendous side effects.
He was forced to miss the first 43 games of last season, as Luke Walton took the reigns and got the Warriors out to an unprecedented 24-0 start. Eventually, Kerr returned, and lead the team the rest of the way to an NBA all-time best record of 73-9, while also winning Coach of the Year honors. However, we all know how the season turned out. Immediately after the Finals collapse, Kerr flew to Durham, North Carolina, to get another opinion on why his back was not healing faster.
This year, he seemed better. His smile was back, his sense of dry humor was back (if you could ever say it left). He only missed a single shootaround, and did not miss a game, spending all 82 regular season matches prowling the Warriors’ sideline. But, as other people noted, Kerr has been in severe discomfort for the past few days, with everything culminating before last night’s game. The scary thing is that the team and Kerr’s physicians aren’t even sure if it is indeed linked to his previous botched surgery.
As The Mercury News’ Marcus Thompson (who broke this story) said:
His sudden and mysterious absence from the Warriors bench, which came to light at shootaround on Saturday morning, didn’t come with much explanation. Vague descriptions like “illness” and “not feeling well,” are usually a sign something is wrong. In this case, according to sources, it is.
At the worst of this current illness, Kerr was in excruciating pain, according to the sources, and he could barely walk. It was scary because it wasn’t a feeling he’s had before.
The worst part, the Warriors don’t yet know what is going on. They had to say “illness” because there are no answers yet.
Steve Kerr has changed my perception of what is possible in sports. He took a ragtag, overachieving bunch of misfits never destined to leave the second round, and installed a gorgeous, movement based system and philosophy that elevated the team to heights unimaginable. He has redefined the meaning of "cool," and his willingness to engage in serious political discourse as it pertains to his own life and to the lives of his players has been revolutionary, transformative, and downright necessary in these harrowing times.
He stands alone upon a vanguard of his own creation, where creativity, basketball IQ, and empathy are all equally valued necessities. His willingness to battle through pain, both physical and mental, has been inspiring.
Now, he faces perhaps his toughest test yet. Only Kerr and his doctors know what is truly going on. Or—and this terrifies me—maybe they don't know. Maybe the source of this new pain is unrelated to his back surgery, and if so, has yet to be properly diagnosed.
After last night’s game—after the emotional upheaval of the comeback—Stephen Curry grabbed the game ball, intent on presenting it to the Warriors' most important asset: their coach.
Steph kept the game ball for Steve Kerr pic.twitter.com/7YDUZyUCqt— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 23, 2017
But, as J.A. Adande pointed out, Curry's answer left open the possibility that this injury, this “illness,” this unnamed malady, is more serious than even we fear.
“Our coach is going through a lot right now, physically. He told us this morning this is a situation where we need to rally and go out and win a game for him. But we felt that the way the game had gone, we had to fight and do it for him ... and the way that he said it was that we had to win one for the Gipper. So, shout out to Coach Kerr.”
Will we see Kerr again in this series? What about the next one, assuming the Warriors take care of business? It seems that he will miss the next game for sure. If the Warriors handle Portland tomorrow and sweep, they’ll buy their coach some extra time to heal up and prepare for the next round. But if, say, they boot the game, would we see Kerr make an emotional return in Game 5 at home in Oakland?
Then again, even if they sweep, can he be ready for round two? Best case scenario: Warriors sweep, and then the Utah/Clippers series goes to Game 7 (with LA losing on a last second, soul-crushing game-winning shot by Joe Johnson or someone), and by that time it's been a week or more and the "illness" has subsided.
But, we are in terrifying waters right now. Sure, the Warriors could win with Coach Mike Brown manning the sidelines (running Kerr's gameplan and Kerr's system). But, after everything the team has been through—botched surgery, historic season followed by historic collapse in the finals, the Durant signing and subsequent horrific backlash, the best three year run of any NBA team ever—Steve Kerr deserves to finish this journey. Heck, I can only imagine he needs to finish this journey. For himself, for his continued recovery, and for his peace of mind.
Blessings and best wishes to Coach. The man has endured more than anyone I've ever known, ever. Rest up, my man, and come back when you're ready to kick some NBA ass.