Athlon Interview with Steve Kerr
Athlon chats with former player and GM, and current TV analyst Steve Kerr.
By: Charlie Miller | 1/19/11, 5:00 AM EST
Before teaming with Marv Albert on Turner Sports’ coverage of the NBA, Steve Kerr had enjoyed success on the court, first as a member of a Final Four at the University of Arizona and later as a five-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs. Drafted in the second round in 1988, Kerr went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA and retired in 2003 as the league’s all-time leader in three-point field-goal percentage for a season (.524) and a career (.454). He then worked as an NBA game analyst for TNT, left the network to become president of basketball operations and GM of the Phoenix Suns, resigned from the Suns and rejoined Turner in 2010. Kerr will also be part of the expanded coverage of this season’s NCAA tournament. He spoke recently with Jerry Kavanagh.
Q: The last time we spoke, in 2005, you had just left Turner Sports for the Phoenix Suns. Now, you are back with Turner. Just wondering how the transition back to the broadcast booth has been.
Kerr: It’s been great. It’s much easier this time around because of the experience I had the first time. It feels like riding a bike. I’m just jumping right back on. I love working with Marv Albert. He’s the voice of the NBA. So, to work with him is awesome. It’s just been fun to get back to this side of things, where you still get the fun of covering the league and seeing friends on the road, but having a better lifestyle and a better home life.
Q: You have been part of some great casts in your career: a Final Four team at Arizona, five NBA championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls and Tim Duncan and the Spurs, and president and GM of the Steve Nash-led Suns. And now you’re reunited with Marv. It seems like a rewarding career but also a lot of fun.
Kerr: Oh, it’s so much fun. I always relate Marv to playing on great teams because it’s the same dynamic. When you play with great players, it’s just a lot easier to slide in and do your job and know your role. I feel the same way with Marv. He’s so good at what he does, and it’s just a matter of reading and working off him. We’ve developed a really good relationship and a good synergy on the air.
Q: I once asked him about his all-interview team and where he ranked you. He said not first team; maybe third team.
Kerr: (laughing) That sounds like Marv.
Q: Do you miss the competition on the court?
Kerr: I do. I played, basically, as long as I possibly could, so I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t wake up thinking, “Man, I wish I was still an NBA player.” But I miss the camaraderie of going to practice and being on the bus with the guys and traveling. That’s one of the great things about pro sports: You get to hang out with your buddies every day. I miss that part of it, and the competition goes right along with that.
Q. And the striving for a common goal?
Kerr: When you’re trying to accomplish something with a group of guys, it’s pretty rewarding. I got back to that with the Suns in a different capacity, but I still felt that competitive fire and loved it, especially when we won (laughing). But I’m fine stepping away from it, especially at this time in my life with my kids at the ages they are: high school and junior high. It’s kind of relaxing now to jump out of the fire.
Q: Are your kids playing?
Kerr: My older son is a senior in high school and he got a scholarship for basketball to the University of San Diego. My daughter is a volleyball player. She’s a sophomore. And my younger son is not really into sports. He’s into other stuff. He’s a seventh-grader. It’s great. I’m home five days a week with this Turner job most weeks. It’s really nice after being on the road so much in the last few years.
Q: What’s the No. 1 story in the NBA these days?
Kerr: The obvious one is the [Miami] Heat. The Heat will be the No. 1 story the entire year, whether they win the championship or not. They’re the big story, and they should be.
Q: Anything else?
Kerr: Everything else sort of plays off the Heat. Boston and the Lakers loaded up after the Heat did what it did. It was almost like an arms race. Orlando makes a big trade in large part because of Miami’s presence in the East and what they were doing. The best teams are all responding to Miami. And then you’ve got some really good teams that are trying to climb back in. San Antonio is a great story; Dallas as well with the consistency that both teams have shown over the last decade. And they both look like championship contenders this year when a lot of people felt like they might have fallen off the map.
Q: Any sleeper teams?
Kerr: It depends on how you’re measuring things. As far as winning a championship, I don’t think there are any sleepers. But as far as just having successful years and teams to look out for, I think Chicago…everybody suspected they would be good, and I think they’re proving that they’re going to be even better than what people thought. The combination of Noah and Boozer and Rose is really a foundation for a potential championship team, and that’s exciting.
Q. What about teams on the rise?
Kerr: Oklahoma City is trying to get to the next step, which is always a more difficult one than the first step, which is just getting to the playoffs. The expectations are higher and they have to rise to the challenge and prove that they can get to that next level. New York has been down in the dumps for so long, and what Amare Stoudemire has done there to kind of revive the city’s love for the Knicks is another great story.
Q: Do you have any game-day rituals? How do you prepare for a telecast?
Kerr: We always have a production meeting in the morning. We talk about the telecast. There’s obviously plenty of preparation and reading that goes on before that. I’m on the internet all week and watching League Pass. I’ve got a pretty good handle on things before the telecast. But that day, I usually have the same routine: I go to the production meeting and then I go get a workout, grab lunch, go over my notes for a couple of hours, and then head over to the arena – nothing very exciting (laughing).
Q: You will be part of the new broadcast deal for the NCAA basketball tournament. How will that work?
Kerr: It’s a partnership with CBS and Turner. The tournament this year will be on four different channels: TNT, CBS, TBS, and truTV. The production will be a collaborative effort between CBS and Turner. You’ll see some of the usual Turner faces, like Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson. They’ll do studio stuff. Marv and I will be a team for some NCAA games. And there will some crossover along the way. I may end up doing a game with some of the CBS guys, and vice versa. It’s a brand-new venture, and I’m thrilled. I love college basketball. I’m excited about joining the tournament. It’s one of the great sporting events in this country.
Q: I take it, then, that you still follow the college game closely?
Kerr: I’ve followed it the last three years from a scouting standpoint. But this is different now. I’m trying to watch more and more game to get familiar with teams. I’m doing a few games for Fox and a few Pac-10 games just to get my feet wet and get used to the college game. It’s a little different, with the shot clock and the rules. So it’s good to get a little practice in before the tournament.
Q: The college game hasn’t changed much since you played, though, has it?
Kerr: No, it’s pretty much the same game, but it’s so different from the NBA.
Q: What’s the big storyline in college hoops?
Kerr: Duke trying to repeat. It’s such a difficult thing and it happens so rarely. But they clearly look like the dominant team. I probably look at things from a little different perspective, more of an NBA perspective. What I see is this ongoing exodus of the best players. And so you’ve got probably more parity but less quality. I don’t think there are as many great teams as we’ve seen in the past.
Q: Because of the early exits?
Kerr: Yeah. But what it does do is create more parity and more opportunity for a team like Butler to get to the NCAA championship game. I don’t think we’re going to see the total dominance from the bluebloods anymore. I think we’re going to see more and more smaller programs that keep guys for four years and build their programs and go deeper into the tournament.
Q: That makes for an unpredictable tournament.
Kerr: Which is great! On the other hand, you miss out as a fan on watching your team grow. You see your team with a couple of great freshmen, and it used to be you could say, “Man, I can’t wait for two years from now when those guys are juniors. We’re going to be awesome.” Now it’s likely those guys aren’t even going to be there anyway, so you have to enjoy it while you can.
Q: If Duke is clearly No. 1, are there other teams that can sneak in?
Kerr: Oh, yeah. That will always be the case, especially in the college game, where if you have one bad game you’re out. Ohio State looks really good. Washington has impressed me. Kentucky, Kansas…there are some good teams out there. Duke won’t have a cakewalk. It’s fun to watch all these young kids who are freshmen and sophomores. They get a lot better as the season goes on. So there’s probably a team out there that’s going to be much better in March and surprise people.
Q: Does the game itself need any changes?
Kerr: What the college game needs, I think, is they’ve got to change the timeout rule. They have the automatic timeouts under 16, 12, 8, and 4 [minutes]. But unlike the NBA, the timeouts don’t cancel out when the coach calls one on his own. And so you get all these crazy, long breaks when a coach calls a timeout at 16:01. There’s a commercial and they come back and have one possession and at the next dead ball, there’s another timeout. I think the game loses a lot of its flow. I’m not naïve. I know it’s about dollars and advertising money and all that, but the NBA has the same issues, and when the coach calls a timeout, the TV timeout is wiped out. It gives the game much better flow.
Q: How about no timeouts, as it is in soccer?
Kerr: You should see a European professional basketball game. You’d be shocked at how fast it goes.
Q. Are there no timeouts?
Kerr: They don’t have the TV timeouts. They just play.
Q. Shooting seems to be in decline. Everbody’s shooting threes in high school but no one’s hitting them.
Kerr: (laughing) One thing is, mathematically, if you hit two out of five, then you’re doing great. The new stat now in the NBA that everybody’s using is “effective field goal percentage,” where you factor in the point total. Maybe the percentages aren’t as good, but the value is there. And so you have more and more teams launching threes, and they’re designing their offense based on that. You’re seeing more inside-out stuff and drive-and-kick at the pro level and less motion, passing, screening, and the 17-foot shots that you used to see.
Q. When the three-pointer first came in, Rick Pitino was probably one of the first to recognize its value. Hitting 40 percent of your threes – if you take enough of them – is better than hitting 50 percent of your twos.
Kerr: Right. Yeah, Pitino was a pioneer in that regard, first with the Knicks and then at Kentucky. He had his guys launching. Now, everybody is. It makes perfect sense, but it has changed the game.
Q. Where’s the imagination in the game today?
Kerr: It’s a good question. At the NBA level, where I see the imagination is in late-game, side out-of-bounds, underneath out-of-bounds situations. There are some great coaches in the NBA who are really creative and who I think are drawing up plays that I didn’t see 15 years ago: Mike D’Antoni, Scott Skiles, Gregg Popovich. And I find myself really looking forward to seeing what teams are going to do out of the timeouts.
Q. With all of the scouting, can those plays take opponents by surprise?
Kerr: I don’t know if anything is catching anyone by surprise anymore because there is so much advance scouting done now, so much tape, and so many people working on all that stuff. It seems like people are prepared for everything. But the guys who are really good can figure out stuff that will work, even with advance notice. You know, second options on plays and counters and that kind of thing.
Q. What about the imagination in the college game?
Kerr: You know, I don’t see the imagination at the college level. It’s difficult because the players coming in are really young and they don’t stick around. The best ones leave. I don’t think the players coming in to the college game – and the pro game, at this stage – understand and have a knack for the game as well as they used to. I hate to sound like an old fuddy-dud (laughing). You know, “Back when I played…” I don’t want to sound like that, but I just don’t see as much imagination for what’s going to happen, for anticipation. Obviously in the NBA there are great players who you see that with. Steve Nash and Deron Williams are anticipating everything and seeing it before it happens. But I think there are fewer and fewer players who have that knack.
Q. Any interest in coaching?
Kerr: Yeah, someday I can see myself going down that path.
Q. At what level?
Kerr: Maybe the NBA. That’s the level I know the best. I’ve been on that side of things for, I guess, about 22 years now. Someday down the road when my kids are older I can see myself going that route.
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