New Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr on turning down Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks: ‘It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do’

May 15, 2014, 7:59 PM | Updated: 7:59 pm
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For really the first time in his career, Steve Kerr was being heavily recruited.

Looking to leave broadcasting to become a head coach, the former Arizona Wildcat who went on to have a 15-year NBA career that saw him win six NBA titles before becoming a broadcaster and then the Phoenix Suns’ general manager, had his choice between the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors.

“It’s sort of been my career, it’s been interesting,” Kerr told Rob and Karie on News/Talk 92.3 KTAR. “It’s been sort of slow and steady but I keep landing in the right spots.”

The right spot was the bay area, as Kerr chose the Warriors and a five-year, $25 million contract.

“New York was very difficult to pass up because of Phil Jackson and my relationship with him, but in the end Golden State just felt like the right fit.”

Via his various stops, Kerr had built relationships with both Jackson, who is the new president of the Knicks, and Rick Welts, who holds the same title for the Warriors.

But as the 48-year-old admitted, it was not easy to turn down the Zen Master.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do professionally, for sure,” Kerr said. “He’s a mentor, he gave me my chance in Chicago to play for the Bulls and that really changed my whole career.”

Kerr played five seasons for Jackson in Chicago from 1993 to 1998, and was a key part of their second threepeat.

“When he called me up and asked me to coach the Knicks, I didn’t know how I could say no,” Kerr said. “And I didn’t think I would say no.

“It took me a couple weeks to just sort of process the information, process my feelings, my family’s thoughts, and I had a pit in my stomach. I knew something was off a little bit, and in the end I just knew as dedicated as I am to Phil, I couldn’t base my life decision on that. I had to follow my heart, and my heart told me to Golden State. I’m really pleased with the decision.”

Kerr said Jackson was supportive and understanding of his reservations.

“He gave me his blessing late in the process after we had come very close to striking a deal,” Kerr said. “I told him just a couple of days ago, ‘Look, I’ve got to talk to Golden State, I want to make sure I feel this in my heart.'”

Kerr said Jackson told him to go and talk with the Warriors because the worst thing that could happen is for him to take the Knicks job and end up being a bad fit.

“So yesterday when I called him he wished me well and said I made a good choice,” Kerr said. “That’s Phil Jackson, that’s who he is. That’s why he’s been able to connect with his players so well.”

As for the team he did choose, the Warriors’ job had plenty to offer. Not only does Kerr get to stay on the West Coast where he grew up and makes his home, but he also gets to be near his daughter, who plays volleyball at Cal.

And if family wasn’t reason enough to pick Golden State, the fact that the Warriors have a better roster than the Knicks certainly didn’t hurt.

The Warriors went to the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and this year took the L.A. Clippers to seven games before bowing out. Kerr is inheriting a team that won 51 games this season and has talented players like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andre Igoudala on the roster.

“I get to step into a team that’s already good, and if the pressure is we’ve got to get better, we’ve got to win more, that’s a good problem to have — much better than the alternative,” he said. “So I’m going to get to know the players, that’s my first order of business, and I’ve already talked to most of them. I’m going to get to know them, build a staff and figure out what we can do to take the next step because they’ve already built something strong there.”

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