Lowell Cohn: Shooting the breeze with Warriors coach Steve Kerr

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OAKLAND — The pressure is on Steve Kerr and he knows it.

He stands at the foul line at the Warriors gym. To tie Stephen Curry in their free-throw contest, with the coaches and players and reporters watching, he has to nail this shot. Swish and the game will continue. Hit the rim, he is a loser. Miss entirely — well he doesn’t even consider that. The rules are simple — two points for swish, one point if the ball hits iron and goes in, nothing for a miss. Kerr needs to swish.

He stares at the hoop. He grips the ball. He lifts his arms.

Let’s break away from this dramatic moment and explain what led up to it. The Warriors had completed their Thursday workout, preparing for tonight’s home game against San Antonio. Kerr had spoken to the media at large. And now he was talking to me in the folding chairs at courtside.

“Are you still a good shooter?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. He said “yes” before I’d even finished the question. That’s how sure he was.

“Once you’re a great shooter, you’re always a great shooter,” he said. “Because it’s so ingrained. Because you practice it over and over. I’m proud of the work I put in to get there. And now it’s like riding a bike. I can go out here after two weeks without even touching a ball and I can make 20 shots in a row. It’s just the way it is. I hardly ever shoot.

“I’m going to shoot against Steph today in a little free-throw thing we do every once in a while. I just like the competition. So, every once in a while, we have a contest against each other.”

“When you were a player, did you identify yourself as a shooter?”


“As a shooter first?”



“That’s what I was. That was my main value to every team I was on. If I couldn’t shoot, I wouldn’t have had any shot to make it. I took pride in my shooting and my decision-making, taking care of the ball, being a good passer, getting our teams into our offense and keeping the ball moving.”

Kerr leaned back in his chair, watched his players taking shots. He was a man at ease.

“What shooting work did you do as a player?” I asked.

“I did a lot of shooting every day. A lot of thinking, too. You can’t just go out and launch shots. There has to be a plan. I developed a routine. That’s what all the great shooters do. Steph has this beautiful routine he does every day that he’s refined over the years.”

Kerr glanced at Curry, who would be his opponent in a few minutes.

“Klay (Thompson), too,” Kerr said. “You see him down there. He’s got his own routine. Ray Allen, Larry Bird, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, they all had these very personal routines. You take great pride in that.”

“What was your routine?”

“I had a warm-up routine before games and a post-practice routine. It was only about 200 shots, but very game-oriented shots. I never believed in the 1,000-shot thing. You just wear yourself out. I took 200 shots from spots I would get in the game.”

“What did it feel like in a game when a shot went in for you?”

Kerr smiled, recalling. “The ball felt very light. When I would miss, when I was in a rut, the ball felt like a bowling ball.”

I stopped him. “I asked what it felt like to make a basket,” I said. “When you said the ball felt light, it’s actually pre-basket.”

“Right,” he said.

“I’ll try it again,” I said.

“OK,” he said.

“Your ball feels light. You shoot and it goes swish, doesn’t hit anything. Is there any emotional feeling about that?”

Kerr laughed out loud. “If you don’t mind me swearing, it felt (expletive) awesome.”

“Every time?”

“Every time. Never gets old. Some of them felt better than others. Sometimes, you get lucky. You shoot one that maybe doesn’t come off your hand right. Squeaks in the side door. It didn’t feel great, but you’re still happy about it. But when you shoot one that’s pure and as soon as you release it you know it’s going in, nothing like it.

“You feel total freedom, confidence, flow. Everything that you’re searching for, you find. That’s a beautiful feeling. It’s hard to attain. When you get it, it’s like you’ve finally gotten out of your own way. When you get out of your own way and you’ve achieved that freedom of total flow and let your body go and your mind is free from all the clutter, that’s the beauty of it all.”

“You’re describing meditation,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “I do yoga couple days a week. As a player, I did a lot of meditation. It was hard to do. I worked on it every day. There were days I got in my own way, whether it was the pressure of the game or something a fan said or something I did I knew was wrong, or whatever.”

It’s now a few minutes later and Kerr is standing at the foul line. Curry is staring at him. Kerr is waving his arms, relaxing his hands. Neither he nor Curry has missed a foul shot. But Curry hit the rim only once — and got just one point that time. Kerr hit the rim a few times.

And now Kerr, down 21-19 to Curry, grips the ball and lines up the shot. He needs two points on this shot to tie Curry. Swish or lose, do or die. And he launches the ball high, seems to aim for the ceiling, and the ball reaches its zenith and begins its fall, the arc pure, the arc true, and the people there follow the ball with their eyes, watch it gently approach the hoop, the hoop seeming so wide. And the ball kisses the rim, the merest kiss, not even a sound, and it falls into the net and gently ruffles the strings.

“Oh,” says Steve Kerr.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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