The Brilliance Of Ron Adams: The Coach's Coach
- Why would one of the best coaches in the NBA forego the chance to lead a team of his own? Meet Golden State’s Ron Adams, a career assistant by choice who groomed some of the league’s best head coaches without ever taking the job himself.
Below is a lightly modified transcript of episode five of the Breakaway podcast, entitled “Assistance.” You can listen to the episode in its entirety here.
The NBA is a league of extraordinary ambition. It’s not a minute after a player is drafted before he’s thinking about what kind of playing time and shots might be up for grabs with his new team. From there, everything is built around the next opportunity and where it gets you. Crack the starting lineup and you’ll reach for a bigger role. Earn that role and you’ll look to validate it with a new contract. The game becomes a climb because to the fiercely competitive athletes who actually make it to the league, everything looks like a ladder.
Most who work in basketball in other capacities fall into that same mold. If the grinders in an NBA film room slept at all, they’d dream of a future in a front office. Catch one of the league’s developmental coaches in a candid moment and they might lay out their three-year plan to move up a few seats on the bench. So much of what goes on in the NBA is driven by the want for upward mobility; there’s one league and there are 30 teams, but within them are hundreds of individual agendas.
And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. Careers and legacies are at stake. Yet caught somewhere in the middle of all that competing drive is Ron Adams—a coach who, by his own choice, has remained an assistant for every one of his 23 years in the league. Ladders just aren’t that useful for people who are always content where they stand.
“And looking at my skill set and what I enjoy doing, I think probably things worked out as they should've,” Adams said. “You know, I've never hired an agent. I've never had an agent.”
Agents, after all, work in service of the next job. What Adams represents is a different sort of aspiration—one so absorbed in the present as to revel in it. That’s not usually a luxury coaches can afford. But Adams has more rope than most because of two distinct factors: The first being that he currently coaches the Warriors under Steve Kerr—a team so good it allows him to focus completely on the moment. The second is that Adams, without really doing any kind of self-promotion over the years, has become one of the most respected coaches in the league. Colleagues past and present sing his praises. Booklets that Adams put together on defensive strategy can be found on the shelves of coaches and executives league-wide. When Steve Kerr and Brad Stevens wanted help easing into their new jobs as NBA head coaches, they called Adams in spite of the fact that he’s never actually held that job. In Kerr’s case, the introduction came by reputation:
“When you're a player you really don't pay much attention to other assistant coaches,” Kerr said. “But when I was at TNT, Tom Thibodeau became very prominent as a defensive coach and Ron's name started popping up all around as I was asking: 'Who are the best defensive coaches?' And so I became aware of him doing TV and when I became the Warriors coach, I sought him out and was able to get him on our staff.”
Kerr wanted Adams beside him as both a defensive coordinator and an advisor. An experienced assistant can be an invaluable resource to a new coach—which was the exact kind of relationship Adams had with Brad Stevens in Boston the season prior. “First of all, he could be a head coach if he wanted to be,” Stevens said. “I think that he's very humble. I think that he is very much in it for the good of the team. I think that that's always been his deal.
“But he said this and he was really helpful for me because I threw him a ton of ideas and he threw me a ton of information and it was great for me to have somebody to kinda be an editor as I came into the league. He's a really good coach, I think everybody knows the defensive details and the X's and O's standpoint of it, but I think where he's just as good is in player development and in helping guys find their best.”
There’s something really fitting about this idea of Adams as a sort of spirit guide for the coaches he assists. He’s not telling anybody what to do. But with reflection and perspective and a lot of basketball insight, Adams channels a staff just by being a part of it. This is how a soft-spoken assistant coach has so consistently found the means to make his teams better. Adams isn’t just a better tactician than other coaches, though he is that. He approaches the entire trade from a different angle—one that’s somehow both very lofty and also very human. Stevens is right: Adams could absolutely have been a head coach if he wanted to be. That he never really did is a testament: Even in a league with so few of these highly coveted head coaching jobs, sometimes there are forces at work even greater than ambition.
Coaching is an industry of mediation. You’re balancing a roster of uniquely talented players and an overarching scheme to govern them. You’re serving the interests of the team’s owner in a way that can benefit the entire group. It’s all about positioning yourself in the middle and managing in every direction, whether you’re a head coach or an assistant or an intern trying to keep your foot in the door. Those relationships are what make the job.
“You have to like people,” Adams said. “I think that's at the forefront. And it's more than like—you have to really enjoy diversity, enjoy the relationships that you have to have to be successful at this level.”
That goes a long way in explaining why Adams took the path that he did. On one level, he’s a defensive wonk—as deep in the weeds of execution as any coach out there. But Adams is so deliberate in choosing his opportunities because he knows how much the people surrounding them really matter.
That wasn’t exactly what was taught in Adams’s more formative years. He took his first gig as an assistant at Fresno Pacific in 1969. Back then—and even now in the college game—head coach was a position of particular authority. Everything was a demand shouted down from on high. That was the world that educated Adams as a coach, though you can feel him bristle at that dynamic even now.
“Well, when I got into coaching it was a very—it was for most of the great coaches at that time in college, it was a very dictatorial relationship,” Adams said. “Coach to team. It was the coach looking down at the team. I think that's changed radically – certainly at our level it has. I think for the better, in many ways. But also it's changed because the way of doing, the way of relating changes over the course of time. Because the kids change a little bit. The culture changes. So you plug in in a different way than you were taught years and years ago, and the model years and years ago was, y'know, pretty much 'I have the answers, listen to me and you do it.'”
Fresno Pacific actually made Adams its head coach in 1972 when he was just 25 years old. He found out pretty quickly that you can’t really take that tone when the players, at least in terms of age, are your peers. “During those years,” Adams said, “I actually coached players older than me. Which is an interesting experience because I think you learn a certain kind of respect.”
The character of Adams’s coaching came out of that respect. You can be detail-oriented without being domineering. Accountability doesn’t require an iron fist—just a mutual understanding of what’s being asked and what’s at stake. It took Adams some time to figure out the balance of what he wanted be as a coach. You can learn so much from watching and listening to other basketball thinkers that sometimes you have to carefully extricate yourself from the patterns you’re immersed in.
“I had some rough edges, I'm sure,” Adams said. “I was probably more of an untempered zealot in terms of what I wanted done. I took losing poorly. I think when you're younger you try to find yourself. You try to find not so much what works for you but what, um, y'know—who you are has to come through your approach. I think it's hard to find who you are when you start off. You have these other models that you're perhaps emulating a bit too much. And gradually I think you come to a certain equilibrium. You understand yourself better. You understand what works and you understand more the proper way of doing something.”
What this amounts to is growth—an idea that’s as sacred to Adams as anything. For him, the work is in the pursuit. Everyone is unfinished. He’s spent a career trying to be the best coach he can be so that he can help players be the best that they can be. For as much as he loves basketball, Adams fell into this world because he wanted to work in education. In a sense, he does.
“Coaching is, at the core, teaching,” Adams said. “Then when you're discussing, when you're looking at this whole aspect of teaching with younger peo– people younger than you, then the whole relational aspect comes into play. I still have a lot of college, or college coaching in me, or college mentality in me simply because at the core, the guys know no matter how great they are, or what they do at this level, they're people. They're just like you and me. And they're fun and they have their idiosyncrasies and they have their various paranoia, paranoias about different things and so on. I'm just kind of like now an old uncle trying to, to direct people and teach them and help them. I really love that. I think that's a very enjoyable part of what I do.”
All of the Warriors get direction from Adams on things ranging from the most microscopic fundamentals to their grasp of systems as a whole. He has an eye for the game. But Adams’s mind really races at the possibility of development. The teacher in him can’t help but come out.
“I think he gets a lot of enjoyment out of teaching and he's great at it,” said Wolves coach and team president Tom Thibodeau—who, really, would know. Thibodeau and Adams have been friends for 25 years, ever since Jerry Tarkanian hired them both as assistants when he took over the Spurs in 1992. “I think he's passionate about it. You look at the way he works, his discipline, how he cares about people, and I think his coaches had great impact on him.”
Adams and Thibodeau bonded immediately—talking strategy, going out to dinners, and figuring out the NBA together. Thibodeau has seen every stage of Adams’ NBA career and knows his effect on the progress of a team:
“Part of it was, I think, his ability to see the possibilities in someone and to stretch 'em and push 'em beyond what they thought they could do,” Thibodeau said. “That was a big part of who he is. That was what I had a lot of respect for and I still do.”
“Like, I work with the big guys,” Adams noted. “Y'know, I'm a little person by our standards, a small person. I always wanted to be a big man. And I love big-man play. But we were taught, and I was taught well by a lot of good people, to teach everything. So I love teaching shooting. I love working with people who can't shoot and trying to make them reasonably good shooters. But it's all based on these small little things.”
Those small things can pay off in a team’s broader ecosystem. Just that slight improvement that Adams mentions, in taking a guy who can’t shoot and making him reasonably good, it can ripple throughout lineups. It can be the difference between a clogged court and a free-flowing offense. And sometimes, the possibilities that Adams sees in players can be monumental. He was reportedly one of the advocates, along with Kerr, for the Warriors to keep Klay Thompson rather than trade for Kevin Love in 2014. Adams saw something special in Thompson that wasn’t worth giving up. There were many other voices involved, but the Warriors are champions because of his perspective.
Investing in others and what they’re capable of is what drives Adams. And there’s a kind of full circle appeal this season in particular. Adams was an assistant in Oklahoma City during Kevin Durant’s early years in the league. When Durant was introduced for the first time as a Warrior last summer, he was asked about reuniting with Adams after all these years. Without missing a beat, Durant said: “Ron Adams is the only reason why I came. Simple as that.”
It was a good bit. But there really is a connection between them, understated as it may be.
“KD and I have an interesting relationship,” Adams said. “I don't spend reams of time talking to him. We talk. I try to get him to be, to see his potential in some areas. And I think he sees that other than his fantastic ability to score the basketball. But from, and I think it's not only my experience with him—maybe, I don't know—but I think we have some sort of intuitive relationship that when you meet him, when I met him it was like: we understand each other. You know? Our souls intersect at some level, I think that it's gratifying. I told him when he came back, I told him, 'You're too big-time for me. I can't even talk to you because you have all these things going on in your life. You never had those things going on in your life when you started off.' But I think I know him as a human being.”
That’s exactly what Adams wants—to connect over personality and process. He lives to get to the point with Andre Iguodala where he’s able to offer criticism of the defense that Adams installs. He wants to work with Kerr to unleash a supremely talented roster and, while he’s at it, he wants to work with a Luke Walton or a Jarron Collins to make sure the coaching staff isn’t shying away from its own development. As he puts it, Adams enjoys coaching coaches. And it comes from a calm, thoughtful regard for the team as an ensemble.
“The thing that I really respected and admired about him was he was never about himself,” Thibodeau said. “When Ron is on your staff, it's gonna build great chemistry amongst the staff because he wants everyone to get ahead. He's a mentor to a number of coaches in this league, particularly the young guys who are coming in, y'know? He wants what's good for the game, what's good for the profession. He just stands for all the right things.”
To call it mentorship is fair, but it doesn’t capture the entire relationship. Adams has compared the young coaches in the league to the innovative 20-somethings in the Bay Area, so full of energy and fresh ideas. Sometimes the best thing Adams could do for those coaches was to quiet his biases and approach their suggestions with an open mind. He challenges them, but Brad Stevens found that kind of receptive approach to be a great help.
“I think I had never coached the defensive system that we even played that first year,” Stevens said. “So I was teaching myself on the fly prior to the season so we'd be able to put it in. And I felt, y'know, I thought all of the things—it was interesting cause I would bring a lot of ideas that we had done in college and some of them he would say, 'I don't know that that would necessarily work but certainly never discourage you to try.' But then some he'd be like, 'Y'know, that makes a lot of sense and let's tinker with that and let's try that.' So it was fun to kinda, especially those first couple months, to hammer out some of those ideas.”
At the same time, Adams naturally plays the sage in those situations. He drops pearls of wisdom almost casually in conversation, whether related to basketball or otherwise. He passes around articles to those he finds curious—just the latest in his readings about science or government or identity politics. For the especially precocious, he’ll send a book.
“The first book that he gave me,” Stevens said, “was a book of poems.”
Adams is actually a bit of a poet himself—enough to dabble here and there, and certainly enough to see the poetry in the game. To understand the mechanics of basketball at the highest levels is a necessary part of coaching championship teams. You have to be fluent in the full range of options available, which means understanding the call and response, the mirroring of effective strategies, and the rhythmic flow of a moving defense. For Adams, even reaching that kind of comprehension isn’t enough. He wants to dig into the philosophy behind those choices and, really, the philosophy guiding movement all over the floor.
“I think a lot of people don't really have a philosophy of play,” Adams said. “I think they copy people and so on and then you have other people who are, perhaps, more nuanced in that way, who have real philosophies of play that they have thought through. We all borrow from everyone. It's not like anyone comes up with some original plan on how to play or whatever but I think you have to be really open-minded but have a real philosophy of operation, which any successful person in any area has to have.”
This is who Ron Adams is—poet, philosopher, developmental guru, defensive genius, and dedicated assistant. He doesn’t consider it beneath him to work in the service of something; in fact, the fullness of his investment is predicated on it. What makes Adams so good at what he does and so widely revered is that he pores over his team from all of these angles without ever looking beyond it. The only distinction that matters to him is harmony.
In the world of Ron Adams, there are no small mistakes. Sports on the whole tend to favor results over process; the best shots are, apparently, the ones that go in. Adams is too much of a tinkerer to accept that premise.
“Well, if you're a teacher like I have been, a teacher of movement—you know, you teach movement, you teach balance, you teach rhythm, it's the really small things that contribute to success,” Adams said. “Everyone does not look at it that way anymore. It's kinda more of a general, general way of looking at movement. And then others are still quite precise in terms of the small things. It's just this building block. I could watch the game film last, with you, last night, and I would say every critical juncture in that game in which we kind of frittered away a lead, let's say, and when we built leads, were all fundamental more than schematically based.”
Every detail, then, is an item of critical substance. When we see Stephen Curry go through an uncharacteristic cold spell, the topic of conversation gravitates toward his confidence level. Maybe his health. Deeper dives might parse his shot selection or check whether a defense was rushing him. Adams goes smaller, to the slightest fade or the few degrees difference in Curry’s footwork. And he does the same for every player in complex defensive arrangements, all while constantly evaluating the delicate changes in the space between them. Nothing is trivial.
“That's how I look at the game,” Adams said. “I'll always look at the game that way. Don't have many years to coach. so I'll go out with that as my mantra.”
What’s amazing isn’t that Adams perceives that level of detail—it’s that he never allows himself to get bogged down by it. A coach could drive himself and his players mad if every mechanical issue became a rabbit hole. So triage becomes an important part of the job. Some things are worth fixing, others are worth mentioning, and a certain set are best ignored. Tom Thibodeau came to rely on Adams’s discerning approach when he hired his old friend to be his lead assistant in Chicago.
“He can think big picture, he also can think of all the minutiae that is important and what's not important he doesn't get stuck in,” Thibodeau said. “He can move on and he can get you to move on, too.”
Considering just how many things a coaching staff can second-guess or fret over, knowing when to move on is imperative. And that’s just one of the complementary attributes Adams brings to a staff. So much of what he has to offer will clarify a particular strategy or challenge some underlying assumption. Adams will push back against anything he doesn’t feel is quite right, but his general mode is collaborative. “I always knew that if I had a question or a thought that he would give me what he honestly felt about it—even if he felt that like it may not be something that I would want to hear,” Thibodeau recalled. “I always appreciated that about him. I know he helped me tremendously.”
His point about trusting Adams isn’t one that Thibodeau makes lightly. It comes up constantly when Thibodeau talks of Adams, speaking to both how much Thibodeau values this sort of honesty and what sort of communicator Adams is. “You can count on him to be a truth-teller and I really respected that about him,” Thibodeau said. “I think it builds great trust. And you can't build trust without telling the truth. I think that that's why I know from all the—he's never really changed. He's been the exact same guy. You can count on Ron. And that's probably the most important thing, to be able to count on someone each and every day.”
“You know,” Adams said, “I was raised in a, on a farm. In the country, people's word was important. And so you build a reputation as a good, honest farmer, you know. You pay our bills and you do all the things that are necessary to have a good reputation. It's important in life.”
The idea of Adams as a truth-teller comes up with Kerr all the time as well. Head coaches appreciate his candor; a smart, frank assistant can often be just the kind of voice that they need to hear. That kind of honesty, though, may have cost Adams his job in Chicago. The Bulls’ front office—with no input from Thibodeau—fired Adams in 2013. No one from the Bulls has ever gone on record to explain why, though the reporting on the subject points to comments Adams made to someone outside the organization regarding his opinion of personnel moves. There was never any public flare-up over anything Adams had said—just his outright dismissal at a time when relations between Thibodeau and the Bulls seemed to be growing icier with every passing month.
The costs of a firing like that went beyond the professional. Adams was Thibodeau’s confidant, having earned his trust over decades of friendship. His perspective was an important piece. Thibodeau noted that Adams was “instrumental” to his success in Chicago. “I think he's an unbelievable person and one of the all-time great coaches in the history of the game,” Thibodeau said.”
“I didn't replace him. And a big part of that was when he left, he had also helped to develop a number of the assistants that were on our staff. I just didn't feel comfortable—I knew there would be no one that could do the things that he did and then it was also an opportunity for those other guys he had developed to grow. And so I talked to him about that when he was, y'know, let go. But it was hard. It wasn't an easy thing.”
Two years later, Chicago would fire Thibodeau, too. Adams’s release is what allowed him to join Brad Stevens in Boston, which in a way made it possible for him to later join Steve Kerr in Golden State. In the alternate reality where both Thibodeau and Adams kept their jobs with the Bulls, it would be hard to imagine Adams ever leaving. What he had in Chicago was just the kind of job he valued—a place among people he respected and with players he enjoyed. The ending there was ugly—Adams described it as “mystifying” and “hurtful.” But looking back, there was a serendipity to the way he left to land with one of the greatest teams of all time, in a role no less instrumental.
“I think I like to be judged on the merits of what I do,” Adams said. “Not saying that, that I'm not bragging about that, I don't want to give that impression, but I wanna do a good job for people, I want to be the right kind of person to help an organization get ahead and I've been fortunate to be in so many gratifying rebuilding kinds of efforts. But that's kind of what I put my—I put my eggs in that basket. And again, I use the word 'survive' but I was able to survive, keep jobs, move on to a better—every job I've taken probably in the last 10-12 years has, the next job is always better than the last job as far as a lot of things. And that's kind of how I've done it.”
Thibodeau and Adams still talk all the time—and they visit whenever possible, including during Thibodeau’s stay with the Warriors in his year out of office. And once the Timberwolves named Thibodeau as both their new head coach and team president last year, the call to Adams was inevitable. “When I was hired here in Minnesota, I basically—I tried as hard as I could but I knew it would be a long shot at best,” Thibodeau said. “But I'm very, very happy for him and it's a great way for him—if this is the way his career ends—to end his career as, y'know, back in California with a great team, with a great organization, and great people. He deserves that.”
There’s kind of an ‘Odd Couple’ vibe between these two. One is the basketball obsessive who sleeps in his office, the coach so gruff he yells himself hoarse. The other is the intellectual who loves the game but whose interests and curiosities soar outside it. Yet their gravitation toward one other back in San Antonio was strong for good reason. There’s common ground between them.
“We believe in a lot of the same things,” Thibodeau said. “Pretty much straight forward.”
As far as basketball goes, you’re talking about two of the sharpest defensive minds in the league. Thibodeau basically drew the blueprints for modern NBA defense—shading toward the strong side of the floor in a way that relies on quasi-zone principles. Adams worked in that scheme. He also built a contending defense in Oklahoma City, he grounded Brad Stevens’ concepts in the NBA style, and he pushed a switching, flexible defense in Golden State to its natural limits. There are some clear differences, but every Adams defense and every Thibodeau is united by a similar philosophy of play. Everything is rooted in connectedness.
When Thibodeau’s teams don’t execute quite as they should, he’ll usually note that they just weren’t connected. The goal for his defenses is to function as an intuitive network, linked so clearly by their principles and understanding that they seem bound together. For Adams, the concept runs even deeper than that. He expounds:
“Defensively, obviously we're all connected,” Adams said. “What one person does, everyone else has to adjust to. When one person moves, in the best of worlds everyone moves. It doesn't always happen. It's what we strive for. I think defensively, through this, this aspect of connectedness, this concept of connectedness, it's very altruistic. We do something for someone else that's not glamorous. Offense is glamorous. Offense is—except to the purists—offense is notable, to the public. Defense is kind of what all of us have to do in life to not only live good lives, but to make other people's lives better. I think it's a giving thing. Coach Grant—it came back to Coach Grant at Fresno State use to have a saying that he'd tell the guys that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are givers and there are takers. So we had a really strong defensive program then. And defense is giving. So, like, if you want to take it to the next step, it's kind of how we have to live, you know? The thing that I've always liked about basketball, and this whole aspect of connectedness is—I've loved coaching the international athletes. And I've loved my international experiences and I've had quite a few. I think I love it because of the freshness of the people. Their mindset. It's different from mine. I learn from them. Their healthy, I think in many ways, their healthy naiveté of how they look at life from a different culture – and I've lived internationally for a bit, not for very long but I sensed that there and it was a great—I learned a lot from it, I'll say it that way. But I loved the connectedness on these teams. Not talking defense now, just these strange, these different people who come together. Yes, basketball is the thread that runs through everyone. The reason they're there, obviously. But it's more than that. It's the, it's the rubbing shoulders with people who are different from you. And many times, for the international athlete it's rubbing shoulders with someone who is very different from them, and it's a two-way street. It's just adjustment. That, to me, has been really gratifying to see and to be a part of. Which, again, transcends sport and is a lesson for all of us in terms of how I think we're gonna have to live. We're going through a bit of a tough time in that regard in our country but we're – that's how we're gonna have to live. We're all the same. Might look a little different. Might be a different color. Might have a different accent. Might be different socio-economically. But it doesn't make us better than anyone else and I think that's, you know, we have this commonality that we have to develop. I think sport is so great for that.”
Adams didn’t really cross paths with Steve Kerr in any meaningful way until 2012—at what I imagine was the last place on earth that Adams wanted to be. “I was the honorary coach during the rookie-sophomore game, which, I don't know what that means but we found ourselves sitting next to each other,” Kerr said.
Chicago had the best record in the East that season. That made Tom Thibodeau the coach of the All-Stars and, by extension, left Adams to oversee an exhibition somehow even more devoid of actual basketball. The Rising Stars Challenge was the kind of affair that takes everything Adams loves about the game and twists it—all the nuance and the problem-solving wrung out for the sake of cheap thrills. But if nothing else, he had good company.
“Steve was my assistant on the bench,” Adams said. “All we did was sit and talk the whole time.”
Two years later, Kerr offered Adams what turned out to be the chance of a lifetime—the opportunity to shape the elastic defense of one of the most talented teams in the league. Golden State’s work on that end has been elite ever since. It was a rare opening to win at that level, a return to California, where Adams grew up, and not least of all—a chance to work with Kerr and general manager Bob Myers.
“Delightful human being,” Adams said of Kerr. “Really a good basketball guy. Really a different approach to the game, but really understands the game. Loves sport.”
“And I think what makes it good—and I'm digressing here, but—with Bob and with Steve, these are very skilled people and they're bright people and they're humble people. And I think Steve's humbleness, his ability to laugh at himself, his ability to see when we've failed and to address it in the right way, in an adult way, let's put it that way, has really permeated our team...I think we can laugh at each other. I think we are realistic with each other. When it stinks, we know it stinks. There's not a lot of excuse-making. But that goes back to these people.”
That’s one thing about the Warriors: For a top-of-the-world championship contender, Golden State is amazingly willing to laugh at itself. You’ll get the occasional “light years ahead” proclamation, but so many of the players, coaches, and executives with the team seem to make it a point not to take themselves too seriously. Kerr finds that Adams fits that culture perfectly.
“He's quirky in a lot of ways,” Kerr said. “He's very funny. The guys laugh with him, they laugh at him. He laughs at himself. It's great. It's a really wonderful combination of knowledge and just a warm way about carrying himself and a humorous way, as well.”
There are tensions and pressures with the Warriors, as there are with any team this good, much less one that notched 73 wins a season ago before blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Yet this era of Golden State basketball has thus far been defined by its exuberance. No one in the league has more fun than the Warriors on a roll. And considering that they have three of the best shooters in the world and facilitators eager to move the ball, the Warriors roll almost constantly. It’s a fun group with a fitting style, and an on-court personality that mimics its organizational culture.
That made it the perfect final stop. Adams has seen pretty much everything the league has to offer at this point. Yet with some influence from Kerr, he’s found something new:
“The goal I set for myself at this age is to not, as I age, to not become a negative, bitter old man,” Adams said. “And to have joy in my heart. I made a—especially this year, I made a vow to myself that every day I wanted to go to work with joy in my heart. And it's worked out pretty well. But that's a two-way street because I'm around people with a lot of joy in their hearts. Steve has brought out a lot of good things in me.” Adams paused, swallowing hard. “I just think his approach to life. I think he understands people. He's thoughtful. He tries to teach the team to be mindful. And he's done a great job of getting good people around him. Probably excluding myself, but a lot of good young people. That's probably been good for me because I'm not only coaching players but I try to coach these guys. That's fun.”
So many coaches in the NBA make themselves miserable. The worry of the job can claw at you; it’s not just the reaction to losing, but the mere possibility of it. Coaches wear themselves down in anticipation. Stress levels go through the roof. Kerr himself isn’t immune to that, as a handful of shattered clipboards can attest. But he’s brought a lightness to the Warriors that benefits Adams – the kind that can help a weary, well-traveled assistant find that joy in his work again.
“Well, I think it's your worldview, number one, that helps,” Adams said. “Your own personal philosophy. What's important to you, what's important in life. But probably it's also knowing that it doesn't go on forever. Then, I think it's the people you're around. Like I work with a couple guys that are just marvelous. I touch a lot of people on our team. I tell em what do, now and again, whether it's someone who's a scorer, it's my job to kind of dote and go around and help people. But I work with two people in particular: James Michael McAdoo and Damian Jones.”
“These are two fabulous people and everyday you go to work and you have these guys and they're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They become your pseudo sons, you know. It's interesting. Even on our team now. We added Mike Brown—you probably know Mike, but Mike's really a marvelous human being. Really good coach, but so much fun to be with. But I could be Mike's dad. I think of Mike—he's been in the league for a long time, I think he's like 10th on the all-time winning chart as a head coach so it seems like he's been around for a long time. But I'm old enough to be his father. He's 46 years old. So I'm working with these young guys and they're just marvelous. They bring the best out in me. Hopefully I'm helping them.”
“But joy, I think, in this life, is always brought to us by others,” Adams said. “There's the old adage, whether it's rhetorical or whether it's true in your life, you have to see god in everyone you meet. God, of course, can be defined in a lot of different ways depending on who you are. But I think that's true. I see a lot of god in our people—My god and that brings me joy.”