Coaching used to be sneakers, sweats and a whistle on a lanyard. Coaches gave curt you-wouldn’t-understand-anyhow answers to reporters and spoke in cliches from Red Auerbach’s era.
Today it is sound bites, TV hits and a communications team. NBA coaches hold a formal interview session before the game and another after it ends. If it is nationally televised, there’s even an awkward one-on-one during the game.
That’s just part of the deal. And if you can’t do it — listening to former 49ers coach Chip Kelly attempt to banter with interviewers just made everyone uncomfortable — you’re not going to last.
Which brings us to Steve Kerr. Now, let’s be honest — it is not as if he is lacking for complimentary media coverage. The guy’s a man-crush (and, I assume, woman-crush) for the overwhelming majority of media members. There are surely haters out there somewhere, but what’s their complaint? That he’s a serial clipboard abuser?
But it is worth pointing out what a refreshing anomaly Kerr has been. Coaches aren’t all dull. But enough of them are that Kerr stands out.
I am endlessly entertained by his subversive sense of humor. I got on the Kerr bandwagon two years ago when, playing Houston in the Western Conference final, the Warriors gave up 45 points in the first quarter. At the time, that tied the most points scored by a team in a first quarter in NBA playoff history.
Naturally, it was Kerr’s turn for an on-court national TV interview. How about that quarter, Steve?
“Oh, I thought it went well,” he said.
The beauty part is that he held the deadpan gaze so long that he finally had to give a little eyebrow waggle to show that he was kidding. You just got pranked, America.
The further you go into the playoffs, the greater the potential for dopey lines of questions. Or a “narrative,” as we’re saying now. Like the classic wheeze — in their prime the Showtime Lakers or the Larry Bird Celtics could beat the Warriors.
There are so many ways to answer that, beginning with, “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life.” Or “I’m not into comparisons.”
Or there’s always a two-word answer: Kevin Durant. He’s 7 feet tall, handles the ball with either hand, shoots 3s and guards LeBron James one-on-one. Who’s your example? Mel Counts?
What about it, Steve? Older players like Magic Johnson are saying their teams would have beaten yours.
“They’re right,” he said before Game 4. “They would kill us. The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the ’50s would have destroyed everybody. It’s weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”
Which is just about the wittiest verbal evisceration I have ever heard. When the Steve Kerr book comes out, put me on the order-ahead list.
Of course, what shouldn’t be overlooked is that he was in terrible pain all year.
He declined to discuss his back problems and the surest way to get an interview cut short is to ask him if he’s feeling better.