Standing along the sideline at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Steve Kerr is on the verge of a fit.
It's 2017 on the eve of the Super Bowl, and his first-place Warriors -- armed with a historic roster headlined by Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant -- are playing a mundane midseason game against the Kings.
But after a foul call on Kevon Looney, the Warriors coach is unhinged. Moments before, the second-year big man was called for two fouls, including a loose ball foul trying to dunk over Kings guard Ben McLemore. The Warriors bench went ballistic, and in the fallout, Draymond Green was called for a technical foul, sending Kerr in a profanity-laced tirade.
"That's f--king horses--t!" Kerr hissed at the officials.
On cue, Kerr's top lieutenant, Mike Brown, raced to save Kerr from himself. A former head coach, Brown had seen the highs and lows of the profession. But tonight, his goal was keeping Kerr in the game -- a goal that was fleeting by the second, even as Brown corralled Kerr in a bear hug.
"You guys better get your s--t together!" Kerr hissed once more, earning an ejection by the end of his tirade. "That's f--king bulls--t!"
For the last four years, in addition to steering Kerr away from trouble, Brown has been Golden State's lead assistant, helping the team to two titles in his second coaching life, becoming an integral part of the Warriors' dynastic fabric along the way.
Brown's story started nearly 30 years ago. As a college senior at the University of San Diego, he saw USD alum Bernie Bickerstaff in a school magazine and reached out. Shortly after, he was hired as an unpaid video intern under Bickerstaff in Denver. In 1997, he got his first coaching gig under Bickerstaff in Washington, giving Brown a chance to see greatness up close.
A month into his first season, the Wizards were playing Michael Jordan's Bulls at the Capitol Centre. On this night, Wizards guard Calbert Cheney started strong, scoring eight points in the first quarter, prompting a Wizards fan behind the home bench to make a bold declaration.
"Hey Mike!" the fan yelled. "Calbert is kicking yo ass!"
And just like that, the fan had broken the unwritten rule: Don't mess with MJ. By the end of the night, Jordan woke up, finishing with 29 points on the evening, while Chaney scored just 10 points as the Bulls cruised to an 88-83 victory.
Brown became close with Kerr during his final playing years with San Antonio Spurs, where Brown served as an assistant coach from 2000-03, and Kerr played from 1999-01, and again in 2002-03. Upon arrival, Brown had little idea of Kerr's competitive edge.
Once when Kerr was a child, he was included in an Easter Egg hunt during a family gathering. The goal was to get the prized golden egg. When another child found the egg, Kerr went into a jealous rage.
"I completely lost it," Kerr said. "My poor mom and dad were just like, they were so embarrassed and this stuff used to happen all the time. If I didn't do well in sports, like if I were pitching on the mound and I gave up a hit, I throw my glove on the ground, I would snap."
A young assistant, Brown got a first-hand look at Kerr's rage up close. Before games, Brown would conduct warmups with the aging Tim Duncan and Steven Jackson. Kerr went last to keep his wind since he didn't play much, using Brown as a defensive body. But according to Brown, the coach had other ideas.
"I used to wear his a-- out," Brown said, busting out laughing. "He don't like me saying that, but that's the truth. That's the truth. He's a good looking dude, blonde hair, blue eyes, his hair is flopping, you know, taking his two dribbles, shooting his jumper. I'm contesting him, blocking a couple [shots]."
By 35, Brown was hired by the Cavaliers as their head coach, inheriting a 20-year-old LeBron James, who'd never been to the postseason. The youngest coach in the league, Brown helped the Cavs reach their first playoff berth since 1998 in 2006, and a Finals berth against the Spurs the following season.
One night early in Brown's tenure, the Cavs were getting beat badly on the defensive end. A defensive-minded coach, Brown requires his bigs to show on the pick and roll, meaning they'll momentarily defend a guard while the initial defender recovers from the screen. After several bad possessions, Brown called a timeout with a question for his team.
"What do you guys want to do?" he asked. "They're kicking our asses in the pick and roll. "You want to switch? You want to down? What do you want to do? You want to ice?"
Then James interjected.
"No, no, no, f--k that," James said. "We're a show team, we're going to show. You do this, you do that, you do this."
Brown stepped back, impressed with his young pupil.
I said, "He's 20, but s--t, he doesn't act like it. Everything is on point for him. He's in control of everything. There's nothing over there or over there, even small things that he doesn't notice and/or pick up on. And just being around him you can feel that."
By his fifth season, he'd posted a 272-138 record, including two 60 win seasons, earning the league's Coach of the Year in 2007 with James as his best player. Brown's success in Cleveland didn't save his job, as the Cavs fired him months before James left for Miami in 2010 to form a "Big Three" with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat.
A year later, Brown was hired by the Lakers -- a stint that lasted only a year as an attempt to install the Princeton offense wasn't received by the Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard-led roster. Along the way, he poured into his work, perhaps to his detriment. On most days, he'd wake up at dawn for a 7:30 a.m. coach's meeting, practice until the afternoon, eat dinner with his children, then pour over more film after their bedtime.
"I was young and in my opinion the thing that helped me get into that seat, especially at that time in my life, was I always felt like there were people out in the world that were smarter than me," Brown said. "But I felt like the one thing I had control over was how hard I worked. So, my work ethic was the thing that helped me more than anything else get to that seat."
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In 2016, he took a job as an assistant with the Warriors. Nine months into the gig, he was thrust back into the role, as Kerr took a leave of absence during the postseason because of an ailing back. Brown responded by helping the Warriors to a 12-0 postseason record.
Off the court, his employers have embraced Brown with levity. Once before a road trip, Golden State's vice president of communications Raymond Ridder slipped Brown a FedEx envelope with what seemed to be a fine letter from the league, because he wore dress sneakers on the sideline.
Before the plane took off, Brown was in a panic, calling his agent and Warriors general manager Bob Myers to no avail. For the multi-hour flight, Brown remained in a panic. A type-A personality, Brown takes pictures of each of his suits before games. No way he could've broken a league rule, he thought -- especially one that would warrant a fine of more than $10,000.
By the time the team arrived at its hotel, Brown was still shaken, but built enough courage to tell Kerr of his alleged transgression.
"Steve, man, we're on this three-game road trip," he told Kerr. "I've just got to tell you: Man, I got fined by the NBA for wearing dress sneakers. All I got is dress sneakers for the next three games. "Now I've got to try to order me some damn shoes."
Kerr, holding back laughter, came clean, telling Brown what his agent, Ridder and Myers already knew: It was a well-executed prank.
"The memo was all official, can't believe Double R (Ridder) went through the whole trouble of typing it," Brown said.
The episode was a reminder that his new job came with a lesson: Enjoy the process. These days, Brown's offtime consists of activities he wouldn't have dreamed of before. On one evening he's liable to stop by the Dogpatch Saloon -- a watering hole near his San Francisco digs -- blocks away from a Hell's Angels headquarters. An avid biker, Brown loves the setup.
"I watched a couple of documentaries on them before," Brown said. "All that stuff is fascinating to me. I don't think (Warriors owner) Joe (Lacob) or Bob or Steve will let me join Hell's Angels."
On another night, he could be out with a pupil.
"I happened to go out one night [in the offseason]. I don't go out much, just one night I happened to go out," he said. "And I saw Klay and he was up in the VIP section, and he invited me up, bought me a drink."
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As for if he'll return to the head coach chair, Brown remains hesitant.
"I'm happy," he said. "I look forward to going into the office every single day, just being around that environment. But in the same breath, yeah, if the right opportunity comes across my plate and I have the privilege to be a head coach again, there's only 30 of them out there. If it's the right fit, I'll jump on it."
"But in no way, shape, or form am I champing at the bits or trying to force it to happen because it may not ever happen," he added. "I don't know. I don't have any control over it. It is a challenge that especially being an assistant and looking at that seat in a different light and learning differently and all that other stuff, especially after going through this, the competitive part in me wants to be able to see if you can handle it again."
For now, he's in New Mexico, wondering when the NBA will return from the coronavirus-induced hiatus. When he does return to the Bay, he'll focus on being Kerr's lead lieutenant while attempting to keep the coach's rage in check.