Editor’s note: Sports Uncovered, the newest podcast from NBC Sports, will shine a fresh light on the most unforgettable moments in sports. The first episode, “I’m Back,” tells never-before-heard stories about the two-word fax from Michael Jordan that changed the course of NBA history.
Some people are blessed with a telescopic view of the planet and their place in it. Steve Kerr is among them.
That’s why his predominant opinion of Michael Jordan is appreciation.
No doubt Kerr could harbor bitterness in the aftermath of that Chicago Bulls practice when MJ – in one of his many moments of deranged competitiveness – punched his teammate in the eye. Kerr could have clung to that memory, letting it fester for decades and influence any comment he makes about Jordan.
If Kerr were not the man he is, he might be as sour about his face meeting Jordan’s fist as MJ is about not receiving a postgame handshake from Isiah Thomas.
To retain such resentment, however, Kerr would have to obscure, if not completely disregard, all that has come his way since being a member of those iconic Bulls teams led by Jordan.
Besides, a man with mountaintop perspective doesn’t allow one brutal moment to eclipse his five-year Chicago experience, which yielded his first three championship rings and filled his life with cherished memories.
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“It completely changed the rest of my life,” Kerr told NBC Sports. “Playing with Michael Jordan changed the entire course of my career."
“I was able to play on these championship teams, made a name for myself, was able to get into TV, broadcasting, management, coaching and the reason people hired for me these jobs later on is because I played next to Michael Jordan. . .. I owe him everything.”
There is a sprinkle of exaggeration in those last four words. Kerr’s drive, his insight and his temperament, deserve a considerable share of credit.
Which does not dilute Kerr’s greater point, expressed in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago, which is producing a documentary focusing on Jordan’s March 1995 return to the NBA. This was Steve seeing what has transpired over the last 25 years and, moreover, knowing its origin.
Kerr’s vocation is basketball. He went from a 20-year playing career (college and NBA) that launched him into a front-office position in Phoenix, an analyst position with TNT and coaching position with the Warriors.
These opportunities have afforded Kerr’s family a very comfortable living, providing the benefit of a secure financial bubble without blinding him to some of the grim realities of the world beyond his nose. He meets with politicians. He addresses gun violence and voting rights and homelessness and racism and sexism. Kerr has and continues to passionately devote himself to these and other issues germane to civilized society.
Would Kerr’s megaphone attract anything more than passing notice if he’d spent the heart of his NBA career as the ninth man on the Hawks or the Warriors? No way. Kerr’s platform is substantial, and its base was constructed during his time with the Bulls and Jordan.
Being the head coach of the Warriors – a suddenly wildly successful franchise previously most often identified ineptitude – has been a factor in his access. It opened doors in the loftiest hallways in America. Some of his profile can be attributed to his commitment to certain principles and willingness to speak his mind on topics avoided by most others in his profession.
Most of it, though, is directly related to his time as one of the most revered and celebrated sports teams in the history of global sports. He was a Jordanaire. A member of the Bulls. The Michael Jordan Bulls.
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And even though MJ lorded over proceedings with an iron fist he rarely bothered gloving, Kerr did more than survive. He prospered. And his grip on reality, with its high highs and low lows, provides a strong sense of perspective.
There is no way to know the direction Kerr’s life might have taken if his prime years weren’t with those Bulls. Guess at your own peril.
It’s easy, however, to see the life he has now. Even with residual agony of multiple back surgeries, Kerr is mindful enough to see his good fortune better than anyone.