SEATTLE -- He comes to work each day like the teacher he is, engaged without being intrusive, opinionated without being overbearing and as quietly competitive as hell.
Maybe it’s those qualities, along with a 50-year catalog of basketball knowledge, that keep Ron Adams atop the list of more than 100 assistant coaches in the NBA.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Warriors’ chief defensive strategist was chosen by vote of 30 general managers as the best assistant coach in the league. Adams received 17 percent of the vote, ahead of San Antonio’s Ettore Messina, who finished second with 13 percent.
“It’s gratifying when anyone recognizes your work," he told NBC Sports Bay Area in an exclusive interview after practice Thursday. “But I’m always amused by it because there are so many great coaches out there, not only head coaches but also some really, really talented assistant coaches. It’s nice when the support people get some attention.”
Adams, who turns 71 in November, has been coaching basketball at one level or another, in one league or another, since his first job as an assistant at Fresno Pacific College in 1969. He coached in Europe in the 1970s. He has been in the NBA for 26 years, beginning with the San Antonio Spurs in 1992.
He’s never been a head coach in the NBA, nor has he aspired to be. He has been with the Warriors since 2014, hired by Steve Kerr when Kerr first took the job. Adams is among the highest-paid assistants in the league, commensurate with his status among his colleague, and is content in his role -- but only with this team.
The Warriors are his seventh NBA team. This job, he says, will be his last.
“Once you build a good culture, as has been the case here . . . it’s hard to find,” Adams says. “In many cases, they are organic. There have been many good decisions here on players. But there are a lot of people out there trying hard to make good decisions, and it doesn’t always work because this is an imperfect business. You can do your homework, you pick a player in the draft and that player disappoints you. You pick another player and he surprises you. We’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Kerr’s coaching motto is “everyone has a voice.” That includes assistants, players, staffers and video assistants. Adams was hired to coordinate the defense and teach the young players, particularly big men, and he rarely strays from that.
That the Warriors have been a top-10 defense four consecutive years -- top five in three of those seasons -- can be attributed to a number of factors. There is Kerr, constantly making it a priority. There was Andrew Bogut, who was traded in 2016. There are defensive demons Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, who act as coaches on the floor. Adams’ task is to lay the groundwork while reminding everyone of habits and tendencies.
“Steve’s terrific,” Adams says. “He gets input from everyone. What I like about Steve and his growth from four years ago when we started is that he continually gets better. He’s got this really sharp mind, and he thinks the game offensively and he thinks it defensively now. He knows what he wants and we have a lot of fun.
“Hopefully, I’ve grown since coming here, too. But I look at his growth, and that of the young coaches on this staff and that’s really gratifying to see.”
The Warriors, players and coaches, have come to refer to Adams by a number of nicknames. Luke Walton used to kid him about being the “old guy.” Festus Ezeli said Adams was “like a professor.” We’ve also heard “guru” and “sage.”
Some of this is serious, some of it a tease. Adams, bespectacled and standing maybe 5-foot-9, takes it in stride. That’s easy to do because he’s generally satisfied with the fruits of his labor.
The Warriors last season finished ninth in the NBA in defensive rating, which is their lowest ranking with Adams on the bench. The slippage was not because they forget how to play D. They were prioritizing. When it really mattered, in the postseason, they were No. 1.