OAKLAND, Calif. Steve Kerr has walked into pregame press conferences more than 200 times in his three-year coaching career, and you can probably count on one hand how many times he was without a smile. But on Sunday afternoon, roughly two hours ahead of tip-off of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Warriors coach walked up to the dais with what might have been the wryest smirk of his life.
Hi, everybody. Any questions?
The Warriors head coach had missed 15 games all Warriors wins since stepping away from on-court coaching before Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, as complications from a botched 2015 spinal surgery had arisen again, and Kerr, who had struggled with the debilitating effects of spinal fluid leaks for two seasons, didnt have the energy to be on the sidelines.
Butsix weeks and two known visits to specialists at Stanford and Duke since Kerr stepped aside, leaving Mike Brown to guide the Golden State ship, the Warriors' head coachfelt good enough to return. Sunday, he announced that he would be in a suit, on the sidelines, coaching the Dubs.
I dont know what happened. I dont know why things got worse, Kerr said. "I feel like [my health] is back where it was before the Portland series.
In a cynical sports world, where everything seems to be a point of contention and debate has replaced discourse, every fan, commentator, and neutral observer should be able to agree on one thing: Its great to have Kerr back on the sideline.
It has nothing to do with how the Warriors play in these NBA Finals Kerr was quick to acknowledge Sunday that Golden State wont be a different team with him on the court and everything to do with seeing one of the leagues best men back at work.
After missing 43 games to start last year, Kerr kept his health struggles in-house this season. But after he took leave, it was clear, looking retrospectively, that he was a man in pain.One can only imagine the relief he felt this week when he was able to string a few good days together.
He might have been hiding it, but he certainly didnt look in pain before Game 2, as he was cracking jokes throughout his media availability.
Kerr hadnt told his team that he was coaching before Sundays press conference, but he acknowledged that he probably didnt have to go into the locker room and tell them once it was done:
I didnt send a group text or anything. I am just going to go in there and they probably already know because theyre on their phones all the time.
But on second thought:
Im going to pull out the Win one for the Gipper speech Maybe get a bit teary-eyed. Implore them to win it for me because its not important for them to win it for themselves.
Thats vintage, tongue-in-cheek Kerr theres a reason he was a great broadcaster and its great to have it back.
And while Brown is a hell of a coach, and not to mention charming, self-effacing, and partof the best quirky storylines in recent NBA Finals history (the Cavs are still sending him paychecks from his second stint as Clevelands head coach), it was hard to reconcile the fact that his presence was directly related to Kerrs pain.
Kerr said he intends to coach the rest of the way for the Warriors he wouldnt have returned for Game 2 if he didnt think he could get through the series, no matter how long it goes.
But if he has to again take leave, he knows that Brown can slide back into the head coaching role without issue: My guy did okay while I was gone Whats our record now without me? Like 812-6 or something?
The hope, is, of course, that Kerr never has to take another break that the inexplicable turn in his health was a one-off.
It wont remain this way everything seems to be played as a zero-sum game but Kerrs return to the sideline should transcend the scoreboard. Kerr is a brilliant basketball mind and an all-around nice guy reports of him being outgoing and kind only scratch the surface and not only was he physically hurting, he was also unable to doa job that he loves. If both of those ailments have been remedied, its a win for everyone with basic human empathy.
In a postseason thats been generally devoid of suspense or shock, the basketball was on the receiving end of ahappy surprise. Here's hoping it's the last surprisethat involves Kerr and his health.