This week’s NBA Cult Hero is a man that would earn enough rings to fill an entire hand. We give you, Steve Kerr.
Back in 1988 Steve Kerr was a rookie sitting on the bench for the Phoenix Suns when the Bulls played them in an exhibition game. Michael Jordan got the ball near the Suns bench, held it out and said to Kerr “watch this”.
Jordan dribbled around their star player Dan Marjlie with ease, brought it to the hoop and slammed it down with a voracious dunk. Jordan then proceeded to jog back nonchalantly on defence laughing at the Suns bench.
Kerr thought to himself:
“There is no way in hell I can make it in this league.”
How wrong he was. Not only would Kerr stick around in the league for 15 years, he would also end his career with an incredible collection of basketball ‘jewellery’.
Kerr may have looked like the stereotypical all American kid growing up but his upbringing was far from the norm. Kerr’s father was an American academic who specialized in the Middle East. He spent most of his childhood in the Lebanon, going on to high school in Egypt before going back to the United States to finish high school in California, hoping that he might be able to pick up a basketball scholarship.
Kerr wasn’t heavily recruited coming from high school due to his 6’3 stature and lack of athletic ability, but in the last minute the Arizona Wildcats offered Kerr a scholarship. Kerr became a legend in Arizona, and while his stats didn’t jump off the page his leadership made him a fan favourite. His coach once said,
“If Steve said rain was yellow the team would agree and the coaching staff would be behind them nodding their heads.”
After a successful college career Kerr’s physicality was still in question, he was taken with the 50th pick in the 1988 draft by the Phoenix Suns. Many felt it was a pity pick due to the Arizona connection. The Suns couldn’t find a place for Kerr in their rotation, and he went to Cleveland were he slotted in perfectly, playing important back up minutes for sharp shooter Mark Price.
After a brief stint in Orlando he moved on to the Jordan-less Chicago Bulls who made waves in the playoffs but couldn’t go back to the former glories they enjoyed during the MJ era.
In 1995 Jordan sent the immortal fax to the Bulls front office which simply read “I’m Back”.
Jordan didn’t respect Kerr when they first met; he had to earn that respect. During Jordan’s comeback after a disappointing playoff loss Jordan was matching up with Kerr in a scrimmage. In Kerr’s own words “I disagreed with him one time,” tempers reached boiling point and Jordan punched Kerr in the face.
That’s right the big bad Michael Jordan punched little Steve Kerr right in the face, but Kerr viewed it as one as the best things that ever happened to him. “I needed to stand up and go back at him, I think I earned some respect”.
That moment of madness helped bond a relationship which would lead to the two going for three titles in a row between 96 and 98. The trust that he earned from Jordan was seen in the closing moments of Game 6 in the 1997 NBA Finals. During the Bulls’ last time out ,Jordan knew that he was going to be double teamed leaving Kerr open and he wanted Kerr to take the final shot.
‘You be ready, Stockton is going to come off you.” Jordan said. Then Kerr uttered the iconic words:
‘”If he comes off, I’ll be ready.”
Stockton dropped off Kerr to double team Jordan, and Kerr was open 15 feet away from the basket. Jordan passed the ball out to him, and boom! Kerr didwhat every kid who ever picked up a basketball dreamed about, and hit the game winning shot to win the NBA Finals.
After Jordan retired in 1998 Kerr took his winning mentality to the San Antonio Spurs helping them cement the culture which is still present today. During his first season with the Spurs he would go on to win his 4th NBA championship in a row. Kerr would go on to win another ring in 2003 bringing his total to five NBA Championships.
Kerr brought a sense of leadership and professionalism to every ball club he was a member of. Through hard work he was able to overcome his lack of athletic ability and become one of a small group of players who has a ring for every finger on his shooting hand.
And that is why Steve Kerr is this week’s NBA Cult Hero.
John Cronin, Pundit Arena.