As improbable as it seems, all of the following is true. Every detail. Every statistic. Every hard-to-believe twist of fate:
In his first five NBA seasons, Steve Kerr had more DNPs than 3-point baskets, 149-147.
DNP: Did not play.
He was bumper-pooled from the Suns to the Cavaliers to the Magic. Cleveland thought so little of the 27-year-old journeyman that in December 1992 it traded him to Orlando for a 1996 second-round draft pick, an authentic player to be named later. Much, much later.
By then, many assumed, Kerr would be out of the NBA.
The man regarded as the greatest 3-point shooter in a college basketball season, didn’t make a 3-pointer for the Magic from Dec. 18 to March 17. At year’s end, he had made six 3-pointers. Here’s some context: Kerr, as an Arizona Wildcat, made six 3-pointers in the first half against Arizona State in 1988.
The bench-sitting Kerr would start just one more game in his NBA career.
Kerr’s contract expired after the Magic’s 1992-93 season. He was unemployed for five months. Finally, a few days before the defending world champion Chicago Bulls opened training camp, September 29, 1993, Kerr signed a one-year deal for a the NBA minimum salary of $150,000.
Seven days, later Michael Jordan retired.
At the most unsuspecting time, Kerr’s career took flight.
In his first game for the Bulls, Nov. 5, 1993, Kerr scored 16 points as Chicago’s sixth man. The Bulls beat Charlotte 124-123. The Hornets’ sixth man that night was Dell Curry, who, like Kerr, scored 16 points. It’s not known, or remembered, if Curry’s 5-year-old son, Steph, attended the game, or knew Steve Kerr from Steve McQueen. Or if anyone outside of Tucson did.
But the trajectory of Kerr’s career changed forever.
Although he was the 50th player selected in the 1988 draft, Kerr played 910 games in 15 seasons. Of the 75 players drafted that night, only six men — Grant Long, Brian Shaw, Rod Strickland, Dan Majerle, Hersey Hawkins and Mitch Richmond — played in more NBA games.
When Jordan returned from a 1ƒ-year baseball sabbatical, resuming his place in the Bulls lineup for the 1994-95 NBA season, Kerr did not, as many assumed, fade away.
He was fourth on the team in minutes played. He was given a raise to $620,000. A year later, he made a career-high 122 3-pointers . He played in all 82 games. He got another salary bump, to $800,000.
In 1995-96, the Bulls broke the Lakers’ long-standing NBA record by winning 72 games in the regular season. Kerr had a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and at one point went 119 minutes without a turnover. On the Bulls’ star-blessed roster, he was fourth in shots attempted. The Bulls won the NBA championship, as they did a year later, when Kerr made the game-winning basket in Game 6, the final game.
Unimaginably, at 33, after Jordan again retired and the Bulls imploded, Kerr was traded to San Antonio for Chuck Person and a No. 1 draft pick. What “key sub” has that much value at 33?
With Kerr in the rotation, the Spurs won that year’s NBA title, 1998-99.
Kerr persevered through another trade, to the Portland Trail Blazers, where he backed up Damon Stoudamire at point guard in 2001-02. That summer, he was traded back to the Spurs for power forward Charles Smith, who had been Kerr’s teammate on the USA’s 1986 World Championship team.
In their last game together in the summer of ’86, Kerr blew out his knee. The team doctor said it was “career-threatening.”
At 37, in his final NBA season, Kerr helped the Spurs win another NBA championship. This time Kerr was paid $2.6 million. Was he worth it? In Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Dallas, Kerr came off the bench when the Spurs trailed 65-52.
He hit a 3-pointer on his first possession. He hit another to tie the game at 71. Another to give the Spurs a 74-71 lead. And yet another to stretch San Antonio’s lead to 79-71. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes and the Spurs advanced to the finals, where they rolled over New Jersey.
All this from a guy who had never scored more than 21 points in an NBA game, or 22 in a game as an Arizona Wildcat.
Kerr announced his retirement as an active player six weeks later, whereupon he became TNT’s chief analyst for the NBA, which led to his position as CBS’s lead analyst for the NCAA Tournament from 2011-14. In between, he was general manager of the Phoenix Suns.
But inside, triggering yet another improbable act, Kerr wanted to be a coach.
Most of the NBA’s legendary coaches put in prep time at off-track locations. Red Auerbach coached the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. Chuck Daly learned the coaching ropes at Punxsutawney High School. Phil Jackson coached the Albany Patroons. Pat Riley was a Lakers assistant. Gregg Popovich spent two coaching terms at Pomona-Pitzer.
In 2014, Kerr became the Golden State Warriors coach without working a single day as a coach at any level. He was given a five-year, $25 million contract.
In his first season, Kerr directed the Warriors to the NBA championship. On Wednesday, he coached the Warriors to their 73rd victory, an NBA record. Fitting this almost imponderable narrative, Kerr missed the year’s first 43 games, recovering from two back surgeries.
Present all of these details to a publisher and insist you want to write a book.
“Is this fact or fantasy?” the publisher might ask.
“Both,” you’ll say.