Steve Kerr got his 250th win as an NBA coach on Saturday night. (Asterisk alert: He gets credit for the 39 victories the Warriors earned under interim coach Luke Walton in 2015-16.) Kerr beat his sensei, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, to get it. And as it turns out, Kerr secured his No. 250 in the same arena where Popovich got his No. 250 back in January of 2002. Right here in Oracle Arena.
“Is that called karma, or coincidence or whatever? I don’t know,” Popovich said before the game when apprised of the … let’s go with synchronicity. “Win or lose, we’re gonna shake hands anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”
No, it didn’t particularly matter that Oracle has become the home base of the 250-win club. But it’s interesting to see how the circle has been completed, and to consider how the fortunes of these two franchises, and two old friends, continue to evolve.
Look back at Coach Pop’s 250th for a minute. The Spurs brought a 28-13 record into the game, the Warriors were mired at 14-27 and both of them were pretty much where everyone expected them to be. San Antonio featured young All-Star Tim Duncan, who led all scorers with 20 points that night; center David Robinson, who still had enough in the tank to block seven Warriors shots at the age of 36; and 19-year-old Tony Parker, a rookie just setting sail on a Hall of Fame career.
The Warriors? Their starting lineup that night consisted of Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes, Danny Fortson, Jason Richardson and Adonal Foyle. A pretty typical Golden State lineup of the late 1990s or early 2000s. Their leading scorer that night was Bob Sura, who had 19 points off the bench.
Rarely has one team dominated another as the Spurs controlled the Warriors in that era. San Antonio won 16 consecutive games in the series from April of 1998 to March of 2002, and 31 of 35 if you extend the period to the end of the 2006-07 season. Then the Spurs put together another 16-game win streak against the Warriors from April of 2008 to January of 2013.
All in all, Popovich’s record against Golden State was 54-11 when Kerr was hired here in 2014. He owned the Warriors long before Joe Lacob did.
You could say things have changed. Including Golden State’s four-game sweep in last year’s Western Conference final, the Warriors have beaten San Antonio seven consecutive times, and 10 of the past 13.
It must feel odd to both Kerr and Popovich, those enduring friends and colleagues.
Kerr played under Popovich for four seasons, and he calls the older coach one of his three mentors, along with Lute Olson and Phil Jackson. Kerr leaned on Popovich for advice when took the Warriors job with no prior coaching experience. And he has borrowed many of Popovich’s principles, both in drawing up plays and interacting with players.
Popovich is infamously combative, nothing like the accommodating Kerr in terms of personality, but their mutual affection is evident. Popovich has even put another Kerr on the payroll. Steve’s son, Nick Kerr, helps the Spurs with film preparation.
“I just like seeing Pop,” Kerr said before Saturday’s game. “We’re good friends, and it’s always fun to see him before the game and chat a little bit. He calls my son a spy. He said my son could be working for Putin.”