- Basketball became a refuge for Steve Kerr this season after being stricken with a spinal injury. It's possible no one enjoyed the Warriors' title more than him.
OAKLAND — Down the hall he goes, blonde hair spikey with champagne.
“You the man, Coach!” an Oracle employee shouts.
“STEEEEVE!” shrieks a woman in her 50s.
Kerr makes a right turn. Away from the crowd, into a long passageway. A towering man approaches, a red-and-white Georgian flag draped over his shoulders. He is grinning. He is giddy. He is perhaps a bit drunk.
“Coach,” bellows Zaza Pachulia, embracing Steve Kerr. “The last time I had alcohol was last year!”
“Seriously?!” Kerr says, laughing. “Have some more!” Then he sends Zaza off with a suggestion: “Uber!”
Kerr walks on, inconspicuous in dress shoes, blue slacks, and an oversized, champagne-soaked, black “NBA CHAMPIONS” T-shirt that sags off him. A thick bandage is visible at the base of his neck.
As Kerr goes, two men in dark suits trail a couple paces behind, watching over him.
“Don’t let anyone touch his back,” the man on the left orders.
16-1 in the playoffs. A second title in three years. A historic team.
It’s possible someone appreciates this moment more than Kerr. But it’s also unlikely.
“Can you believe it?” Kerr asked Raymond Ridder, as the seconds ticked down in the fourth quarter. Ridder wasn’t sure if Kerr meant the championship, or that Kerr was here to witness it.
Kerr appreciates everything these days. Being with the team. Bus rides. Halftimes. Even the press conferences and second-guessing. “Oh yeah, I love the whole thing," he says in a quiet moment. "I love all this stuff. It’s funny how you miss all of it, even those parts.”
He feels linked. Not just to Steph and Durant, but to the Zaza’s of the world. And the JaVale McGee’s. “I had a great moment with JaVale, who I just adore,” Kerr says. “I think he’s one of the nicest, most human, interesting people I’ve ever met. He was bawling on the stage and I was crying with him. I just, I’m so happy for him. He was just perfect for this team. He gave us so much juice and energy.”
While Kerr is happy for JaVale, everyone else is happy for Kerr. One of the biggest reactions of the night came when the crowd saw the Warriors coach on the big screen during the postgame celebration. No one knows exactly what he’s endured; they don’t need to. To walk with him after the game is to see him enveloped again and again. By old friends like Grant Hill. By Warriors staffers. Assistant coach Willie Green points to Kerr and says, “None of this happens without him.”
Kerr has no idea what the future holds. “To be honest, I’m just happy to be able to be a part of this,” he says. What matters at the moment is that he made it this far. He didn’t let down his team; his team didn’t let him down. He was able to share this with his family. His son, Nick, was along for the whole ride. He watched good friend Mike Brown excel in his absence. He was buoyed by Bob Myers, another good friend.
Basketball, Kerr said recently, had become his refuge. Indeed, at this point, he may need the Warriors as much as they need him. Who can say? Besides, what does it matter? At this point, the two seem intertwined, Kerr and the team he helped build, one founded on his core principles: compassion, competition, mindfulness, and joy. Always joy.