Longtime Pals, Stevens & Kerr, Set for Epic Battle
BOSTON – After experiencing monumental success as a coach at Butler University, Brad Stevens started to become curious about the prospect of making the transition to the NBA. He began to form connections around the league, one of which was former NBA player, executive and broadcaster Steve Kerr, who currently serves as the coach of the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The two first met in March 2013 when Kerr, a TNT analyst at the time, was calling an NCAA tournament game in Indianapolis. Stevens initiated the meeting by asking Kerr out to lunch, and a close friendship soon formed.
“He was just picking my brain about what the league was like, what it would be like to coach and if he could he make the transition,” Kerr recalled Wednesday following Warriors practice. “It wasn’t anything Earth-shattering; he was just doing his homework before he made a huge life change and career change.”
Little did either know how soon that life change would come. A few months after his first meeting with Kerr, Stevens was offered the Boston Celtics’ head coaching position. He has since grown into one of the most respected coaches in the league.
What makes Stevens so special, says Kerr, is that he is a teacher who is always looking to learn.
“He’s one of those guys who’s really smart; but one of the reasons he’s so smart is he doesn’t think he knows everything. He’s trying to learn,” said Kerr, whose Warriors are in Boston to take on Stevens’ Celtics Thursday night. “Even though he’s the smartest guy in the room, he doesn’t act like it. He’s constantly learning. He’s really impressive.”
Kerr has also become one of the most revered coaches in the NBA. He was hired as the Warriors’ head coach one year after Stevens joined the C’s, and he has already earned three trips to the Finals and two NBA titles during a three-year span.
The Warriors have played the Cleveland Cavaliers in all three of those Finals appearances, but Kerr believes the rising Celtics could soon dethrone the Cavs from their position as kings of the Eastern Conference.
"It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie (Irving) is amazing," Kerr said Tuesday. "That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that's to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now."
Stevens, whose Celtics boast the best record in the league at 13-2, was flattered by his friend’s comments, but he doesn’t want to look too far ahead.
"The future is hard to predict, and we’ve gotta stay in the moment to become the best version of ourselves” Stevens said Wednesday afternoon. “I really appreciate him saying that. There's nobody that I could respect more. He's an incredible person and coach. But, yeah, we have to stay in the moment and try to be as good as we can be and then we'll see what the future holds."
Thursday will be a fantastic test for Stevens’ Celtics, who are riding a 13-game winning streak into their matchup against the defending champs.
The Warriors, who have won seven straight of their own, are considered to be the favorite in the matchup, but Kerr knows this will be one of his team’s toughest tests as well.
"They're really sound and they're motivated," said Kerr. "It's a team that's been on the rise the last couple of years. They lost in the Conference Finals (last season). They want to win a championship, and it looks like it. Even without Gordon Hayward and that awful injury, Boston is just crushing people. So, it's going to be really fun to go against them on Thursday. We know how tough it's going to be."
One of the reasons it will be so tough is that Kerr will have to out-coach his mastermind of a friend in order to win. And Stevens will have to do the same.