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OAKLAND — Out on the hardwood, toward a far corner of the gym, crouches a 70-year-old man, thin and bespectacled, with a crook in his back, a hitch in his step and braces on his wrists to protect them from bullet passes. He is drilling a quartet of Golden State Warriors, each young enough to be his grandson.

At 5 feet, 11 inches, Ron Adams is in a land of giants. Methodically, he orders centers and forwards, most of them nearly a foot taller, through defensive maneuvers and a shooting workout. His boss, Steve Kerr, eyes him intently, then smiles like a gambler admiring someone who is beating the odds. “I could watch him run drills all day,” Kerr says. “Seventy years old and still at it!”

Adams was in his mid-60s when Kerr, the Warriors’ head coach, hired him away from the Boston Celtics, where he was the lead assistant coach. What Kerr wanted was a venerable wise man, someone who had coached for decades but had no real desire to be promoted. Someone who would thus be free to speak his mind.

“I wanted a truth-teller, somebody to tell me, ‘You gotta do this, and you gotta do that,’ completely unfiltered,” Kerr says. “Somebody whose experience and wisdom made everyone stand up and listen. I knew right then that we were talking to the right guy, and I’m just thankful we have him because he’s been instrumental in all that we’ve done.”

For a sports franchise, the Warriors are uncommonly engaged with the outside world, particularly when it comes to politics and social activism. Kerr and several of his players — superstars keenly sensitive to the hardships faced by black people — have been sharply critical of President Donald Trump. They have taken public stances against police shootings, inequities in the justice system and the rise in racist rhetoric.

Adams, a renaissance man in professional basketball, plays a subtle role in this activism. He goads an already intellectually curious team to keep learning, keep reading, keep searching for more.

“Maybe that’s the key to longevity,” says a fellow assistant coach, Bruce Fraser, 53. “Here’s the guy who has lasted, and he makes sure to always remind us that there is more to the world.”

Adams’ fascination with the world started early. His parents had a 320-acre farm in tiny Laton, on the plains of central California. The family raised cattle and grew alfalfa, corn and cotton.

Basketball was how he left the farm. He played guard in college at what is now Fresno Pacific University, where he became an assistant coach after graduation. It was 1969. He was 21.

Adams never played again.

In his late 30s, he became the head coach at Fresno State. He was an unusual blend: professorial, bookish and hard-charging.

He grounded his players in the same minutiae he now preaches to the Warriors: angles, foot positions, how to spread their hands, how to be an instigator instead of lying in wait, how to be flexible enough as a unit to protect multiple positions. Fresno State defended well, but it was short of talent. The Bulldogs won 43 games and lost 72.

Adams resigned. “A very tough time for me,” he says.

The NBA grind, constant change with little job security, became part of life for Adams, his wife, Leah, and their two children.

Still, about every four or five months, he says, he had “an existential crisis about what I should be doing.”

He could imagine himself, for instance, in national politics.

“There are a lot of needs out there,” he says. “So much crap is going on in our country, it’s worrisome. Our country is taking steps backward.”

What of Curry, Durant, Green and all the other Warriors who are growing more and more comfortable with speaking out? “All of that makes me much prouder than anything they have ever done on the court,” he says. “We have players speaking truth to power.”

As Adams moved from team to team, he beat back the angst. His love of the game and the people who play it and coach it — their strategies and tactics and vibrant energy — kept him in thrall.

“Whether you were a superstar like Ray Allen or a journeyman like me, he invested his life into you,” says Kevin Ollie, who played on a pair of Adams’ NBA teams and is now a title-holding coach at the University of Connecticut. “He made you see what you could become.”

On June 23, 2014, Adams joined the Warriors.

Kerr was creating a culture unlike any Adams had seen. He remembers his first Warrior practices. The team was jovial and loose.

During Adams’ first season with the Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies broke a 16-game Golden State winning streak. In the locker room afterward, Adams’ fellow coaches did their best to take the edge off.

Adams wanted nothing to do with such lightness.

“He was despondent, and he didn’t want to talk to anyone,” Kerr says. “I don’t like that. I want everyone to be able to commiserate and talk ourselves off the ledge, and Ron was not even looking at us. He was just in the corner, staring at his notebook.”

It took time to adjust, but as the Warriors continued their steady walk to their first NBA championship in 40 years, Adams approached Kerr.

“I have an admission,” Kerr remembers him saying. “I didn’t know if what you were doing would work. I didn’t know if playing music and being loose and carefree could cut it. But what you’ve got going, it’s working, all right. You’ve cooked up an interesting stew.”

Today, on a supremely tight-knit team, he’s like a revered grandfather: wise and beloved, confident enough to let himself be ribbed for his age, still stern and sharp enough to command respect and set a high bar.

Durant, Curry and Thompson laud Adams for holding them accountable. “‘You could have contested that shot. ... You could have made that guy miss. ... You’ve got to use that length of yours. ... Verticality! Verticality!’” Durant says, mimicking the way Adams bends his ear.

Golden State, Adams says, is his last stop. For now, though, he is in what he calls “basketball nirvana.”

He is the defensive coordinator for a well-oiled troupe that has won two world titles on his watch and is the heavy favorite to take a third. League general managers have voted him the best NBA assistant for three years running.

And though in professional basketball he has never been a head coach, he says, “it probably worked out the way it should.”

“I try to be an artisan,” he adds. “There is a purity to teaching as an assistant — a virtue in being a craftsman and having a craft. It’s the nuts-and-bolts stuff that appeals to me, and the relationships.

“Plus, quite frankly, I don’t think, until the last five or six years of my life, I have exhibited the flexibility to be a head coach. The level where I’ve found myself is just perfect.”

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