CLEVELAND — After the Warriors were crowned as the NBA champs on Tuesday, ABC commentator Mark Jackson finally had to admit it.
“Steve Kerr is a championship coach,” said Jackson, the former Warriors boss.
Did Jackson have a choice, really?
Kerr had a season unlike any rookie coach in major professional sports history. His team finished with 83-20 record, the third-most victories in league history. And as a player, Kerr was a member of the other two teams — the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls.
No other person can make that distinction in league history. Not Bill Russell. Not Magic Johnson. Not even Tim Duncan and Michael Jordan, Kerr’s former teammates.
“He has taken a solid foundation that we built over the last years,” Stephen Curry said. “Obviously, coach Jackson had a huge part in changing our identity, and coach Kerr came in and was very humble about how he was going to approach his job.
“He had a lot of talent to work with, a great coaching staff, but he had some ideas as well that he wanted to implement — ball movement, play movement, managing all the different personalities and situations. He handled them so well, made sure everybody was accountable.”
At 49, Kerr already has a resume that may deserve Hall of Fame before long. And he’s not done yet.
“I thinking of Lute Olson,” Kerr said. “I’m thinking of Phil Jackson, Lenny Wilkens and Gregg Popovich. I’ve been blessed to play for some of the greatest coaches ever. They all helped me get here.”
BLATT’S ALL, FOLKS?: Kerr outcoached first-year counterpart David Blatt in the series, partly because he had more healthy options, but Blatt could get a reprieve because of the short-handed state of his team in the playoffs.
Blatt refused to give owner Dan Gilbert any fodder when asked for a self-analysis of his performance this season.
“I just don’t think it’s really appropriate right now to answer that question,’ Blatt said.
JUST ASKIN’: If the Cavaliers had a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in their line-up, would the series have turned out differently?
HIGH ANXIETY: Because of another 9 p.m. start to accommodate ABC Sports and the Eastern audience, the players and the coaches had to sit around all day.
“I know I used to work in TV, so I understand,” Kerr said half-jokingly. “But just like 8 o’clock would be OK, 8:15 even.”
Andre Iguodala said his mind was so busy, he couldn’t take his usual nap on a game day.
LIKE OLD TIMES: For ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, the final game brought back fond memories of the Warriors’ 1975 clincher. The Martinez native attended Alhambra High School at the time.
“What I remember most of all is the wizardry of Rick Barry that season,” Van Gundy said to Balls. “I also remember the final game, when Mike Riordan went after Barry and head coach Al Attles came to his defense. I didn’t think the Warriors could sweep the [Washington] Bullets, who had loads of talent, but they pulled it off.”
MUST-SEE TV: The series did boffo television ratings. Which just goes to show you, if the series is competitive, fans watch even if the games aren’t played at a consistently high level.
“This hasn’t been a great series from a purist’s standpoint, but it has been compelling basketball,” ABC studio analyst Doug Collins told Balls. “And that’s what most fans want.”
THE CITY OF FRUSTRATED LOSERS: In the conference finals, the Cavaliers handed out t-shirts that said Cleveland Is The City, the song that gangsta rappers Thugs-n-Harmony released a while back. The lyrics mention a few things that cannot be printed here as well as references to the Browns and the Indians but not the Cavaliers.
“The City? The City of what?” my cabdriver asked incredulously.
And the guy was from east Cleveland, mind you.
“You know about the Browns, right?” he asked me.
“And the Indians?”
“If it was the 1950s, those guys might be on to something.”
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE…: Charles Barkley and Phil Jackson?