Steve Kerr ran a campaign against himself, seeking not to be the NBA Coach of the Year. He openly argued someone else should get the award, and thought it absurd he received official credit for Golden State Warriors wins that assistant coach Luke Walton presided over. So it was surprising to see such an emotional news conference Tuesday when Kerr accepted the award.
That's how these affairs tend to go, though. The NBA is such a process-focused grind that, when you remove people from the day-to-day context and ask them to reflect, we're often privy to a jarring jolt of nostalgia.
There was a catharsis to the affair, just as there are with the best wedding toasts. Kerr shared the stage with GM Bob Myers and Walton, his boss and his employee, respectively. Those two designations seemed to matter very little as the men reflected on, among other things, their friendship.
Because of complications from two back surgeries, Kerr battled a personal hell to make it through Golden State's historic season. "It's the hardest year of my life," Kerr conceded on the stage. "Not even close."
He continued, saying he's "incredibly lucky to have this amazing family." Then, fighting back tears, "And all these beautiful people around me, and Bob went from being my general manager, a guy I worked with, to a guy I leaned on every day when I was struggling with my pain."
Kerr continued, "When I was really struggling, Bob called me every single day and offered his support. And if I didn't have Bob and I didn't have Margot [Kerr's wife] and my kids and I didn't have my team to come back and coach -- boy, it was rough. It was really rough. So, the friendship Bob has given me, and the support goes way beyond basketball. And it will last a lifetime."
While offering that support, Myers had his own pain to traverse. His brother-in-law Scott Dinsmore was killed in a climbing accident on Mount Kilimanjaro last September. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Myers was thrust into the role of caretaker to a devastated sister. Meanwhile, he and Kerr were deciding what to do about a health situation that would preclude Kerr's coaching duties indefinitely.
"I don't think everybody quite knows what you've had to go through this year," Myers said to Kerr on Tuesday, just before his voice started cracking.
That statement could apply to all three men. This has been a charmed season on the exterior, a glorious, entertaining jaunt to 73 wins. For Kerr, Myers and Walton, it has been a searing test of resolve. Walton's personal life was in order, but he faced the pressure of suddenly, at age 35, coaching the reigning NBA champions. He didn't know if he was ready, and often joked about a need for W.W.S.D. -- What Would Steve Do? -- bracelets. He performed impressively, with considerable help from great players and Kerr, who counseled him nearly every day.
There would be no COY news conference if not for the play of Stephen Curry, as Kerr readily admitted. Of Curry's rare combination of on-court confidence and off-court humility, Kerr appraised, "That's a force. That's a powerful force."
Curry's MCL strain is yet another reminder of human vulnerability amid a season of Golden State's seeming invincibility. No one knows exactly when Curry will be back or what he'll look like upon return. So the Warriors will try to eliminate the Houston Rockets without their star.
Kerr cited the injury as a reason he's glad his players pushed for their record-breaking 73 wins.
"Nothing's guaranteed," Kerr said. Maybe Golden State won't repeat as champion, but at least the wins record can't be taken away.
The fragility of such playoff circumstances was further driven home by some breaking news. As the news conference concluded, Warriors coaches in attendance checked their phones to find that Blake Griffin was done for the season and Chris Paul will be out indefinitely as the Los Angeles Clippers try to survive the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.
Upon hearing of this, Kerr told attendant media, "When I mentioned the Clippers and Chris and Blake, my reference was really like, there's no guarantee of anything. There's no guarantee that any of us are going to be here tomorrow night. I hate to say that, but it's true. Guys get hurt, people get sick, things happen."
Kerr continued, "One of our approaches as a team is to enjoy the process and to take joy out of what we're doing. We're among the luckiest people on earth. We really are. To play basketball for a living and coach basketball for a living and play in front of fans and on TV -- we live the dreams of most people in the world.
"We actually have to live that. And so you have to deal with the adversity that comes along with that. There's plenty of it. In the grand scheme of things, in terms of life, these are minor things, but they are big deals for the individuals and the teams involved."
Kerr's superstar is injured and the coach is still beset by consistent, painful headaches. He could reasonably wallow in that current circumstance. Instead, he calls himself, "the luckiest coach around." He's focused on living a dream, regardless of whatever nightmares visit. It's an outlook that has served him, and served his team, better than well. And, in understanding his limits and his vulnerability, Kerr has empowered others to share in this success.