Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt have a highly unusual relationship that began just one year ago with a meeting in the Los Angeles Airport by a mutual agent. The two automatically became friends and bonded over similar theories on life and basketball with no idea that a year from then, they would be fighting over an NBA Championship instead of working next to each other on the same coaching staff.
Now, Kerr and Blatt will be facing off against one another in the next NBA Finals as the first rookie coaches to do so in 68 years. This historical series will start on Thursday, June 4th at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA.
1. This is the First Time Since 1947 That Rookie Coaches are in the NBA Finals
The matchup this championship series between Kerr and Blatt marks the first time two rookies will meet in the finals since 1947, 68 years ago. Since then, Pat Riley is the only rookie coach to have won the title. Riley accomplished that feat with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982 with a lineup that included Kareem Adul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes.
After Riley in ’82, Paul Westphal has been the only rookie to reach the finals. Westphal accomplished this 12 years ago with the ’93 Phoenix Suns with the help of Charles Barkley as his power forward, but lost to the Chicago Bulls who were led by Michael Jordan.
Either way, it will be the first time since 1982 where a rookie head coach will secure the trophy.Watch the video above to see a preview on how the coaches got here.
2. They Took Opposite Roads to Their Current Coaching Positions
Kerr and Blatt paved their way to the top of the coaching ranks via completely separate paths.
Kerr started as a five-time championship player and became a broadcaster and then general manager after his retirement from basketball after the 2003 NBA Finals. He won two titles with the San Antonio Spurs and three with the Chicago Bulls. Kerr won two championships with two separate teams during back to back seasons to become one of two players ever to do so next to Frank Saul. Kerr also had a record for the highest 3-point range shot percentage in NBA history of players with over 2,000 shots with 45.4%.
Kerr became the Phoenix Suns’ President of Basketball Operations and General Manager in June 2007 after helping Managing Partner Robert Sarver purchase the Suns in 2004. In 2010 he retired from his job as general manager to become a TV personality and NBA commentator on TNT. In 2014, he took the head coaching position for the Golden State Warriors to explore his career in coaching. He now holds the record for most regular season wins (67) for a rookie coach in NBA history.
Blatt’s journey started at Princeton University where he played point guard for all four years of college (1977- 1981). He continued his career on foreign soil in the Israeli Premier League for 9 years before an injury pushed him into retirement. After, he dedicated his time to coaching and became the most successful American coach in the history of European basketball with the title of Israeli Coach of the Year awarded to him in 1996, 2002, 2011 and 2014 before moving back to the United States to coach.
3. Blatt Almost Took a Job on Kerr’s Coaching Staff
When Blatt came back to the U.S. from Israel, he thought he would be taking a job on the Golden State Warriors coaching staff alongside fellow rookie, Steve Kerr. However, right after they met and connected, the Cleveland Cavaliers asked Blatt to come interview for their head coaching position.
Blatt feared he would ruin his newfound friendship with Kerr, so instead of just going on the interview he first confided in Kerr about his dilemma. The coaching job at Cleveland would be a huge step in Blatt’s coaching career with the re-welcoming of Lebron James onto the team and Kerr encouraged Blatt to go after the position, according to The Associated Press.
Kerr said in an NBA news conference:
No way we could’ve guessed back then that we’d be facing each other in the NBA Finals less than a year later. It’s crazy to think about.
Blatt also commented:
That’s a great irony and story. The way that I look at it is, especially when I look back to our conversation, is that we both got exactly what we wanted. We wanted to be part of a successful team that competes for the championship of the NBA. And it’s happened — only we’re on different sides.
4. They Became Friends Through a Shared Agent
Theu unsuspecting rookie coaches were introduced by their mutual agent, Mike Tannenbaum, at the Los Angeles Airport to make plans to work together. Tannenbaum is currently the executive vice president of the Miami Dolphins in the NFL and Mark Bartelstein is now the representative for both Kerr and Blatt.
The reason Tannenbaum brought the two together is because he thought they would get along based on their similar personalities. Turns out he was right, but no one could have predicted their individual successes as head coaches nor will anyone know what would have happened if they ended up working for the same team.
According to an article by AP, Kerr said:
We share a lot of the same philosophies in terms of how we see the game, ball movement and spacing and pace and the chemistry that happens when the ball does move.
5. They Each Coach One of the Most Talented Players in the League
Although Kerr and Blatt are known to be extremely successful in all areas of their careers, it doesn’t hurt that they have two of the most talented players in the NBA playing for them. Kerr has Steph Curry, this years MVP and Blatt has King James.
Steph Curry’s support system on the court consists of Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes who helped Kerr to his record breaking 67 regular season wins as a rookie.
Lebron’s support system has wilted as the season has gone on with debilitating injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, yet the team has actually managed to get better as the season progressed. Blatt’s job was even threatened because of the Cavs’ 19-20 record at one point, but instead of failing Blatt managed to make the team work with the incorporation players like Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.