The Golden State Warriors will finally have head coach Steve Kerr on the floor during the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 51-year-old Kerr had been out for the most of the playoffs, as he continues to struggle with back problems. However, he returned for Game 2 of the NBA Finals and has coached every game since.
Kerr first had back surgery during July 2015 and then he missed the first few months of the the 2015-16 season after recovering from a follow-up surgery a few months later. Kerr finally returned in January 2016. He even won the 2015-16 NBA Coach of the Year title and led the Warriors to a 67-15 record in the 2016-17 season. The 2017 NBA Finals is the third consecutive Finals to feature the Cavs and Warriors.
Kerr had been off the court since Game 3 of the first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Assistant Mike Brown was interim head coach, overseeing a team that went 11-0 without Kerr.
Kerr has been marred to Margot Kerr since 1990 and the two have three children, Nick, Maddy and Matthew.
Here’s what you need to know about Kerr’s health.
1. Kerr Has Attended Every Team Meeting Since the Western Conference Finals & Is Finally Ready to Coach
On May 29, Kerr surprisingly took questions from reporters for the first time in a month, as he sat in for interim coach Mike Brown, who was out with the flu that day. As the Washington Post notes, Kerr made it clear at the time that he didn’t think he was ready to coach Game 1.
“I’d like to tell you I’m ready,” Kerr told reporters. “But I’m not ready to coach yet. I’m still feeling a lot of effects of what I’ve got going on. But with Mike being out, I’ll take his spot, after he took my spot media-wise. I’ve told the team ‘The good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies.’ So, hopefully Mike will be back tomorrow, but I’ll answer your basketball questions.”
Kerr did talk mostly about basketball, noting that he just went back and watched all seven games from the 2016 NBA Finals for the first time. The Post noted that Kerr has become increasingly more involved with the Warriors behind-the-scenes, attending every team meeting since the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs began.
“I’ve been in every meeting since the San Antonio series started. Every film session, every practice. I address the team quite a bit,” Kerr told reporters on May 29. “I think my messaging is important, and I think we found the right balance where, I’ll help out here but I’m not going to be on the sidelines during the games. Mike and the staff have done a great job. It is awkward, it is weird. But we’re doing OK.”
When asked if he’s definitely not coaching in the Finals, Kerr teased that it was “still up in the air,” adding that he’s waiting for an “aha” moment. But he is definitely going to be with the team when they travel to Cleveland.
Amazingly, even without Kerr on the sidelines, the Warriors have cruised through the playoffs. They swept the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Spurs to reach the Finals.
Ahead of Game 2, Kerr confirmed with reporters that he plans to coach for the rest of the Finals.
“That’s the plan,” Kerr said, notes USA Today. “I wouldn’t be in this if I was thinking one game. I’m in it for the rest of the way, and that’s the intention.”
2. Kerr Said What Kept Him From Coaching Was a ‘Pain Thing’
In an interview with the Mercury News on May 30, Kerr said he’s been in pain and it got worse a month ago. It has nothing to do with whether or not he has the energy to coach.
“It’s a pain thing and the repercussions of pain. I’ve been dealing with it for almost two years. I’ve been able to deal with it for the most part,” Kerr said. “It’s not a cognitive thing. It’s not even really an energy thing. It’s a pain thing. And the threshold is really important–what’s the threshold? For whatever reason, I don’t know why, but a month ago, man, it got worse. You could see it, I’m sure, interviewing me.”
During the Portland series, his pain got worse, but he has been feeling a little better since then. Kerr said that he wasn’t worried about anything drastically changing if he did decide to come back during the Finals. “Like I said, we’re doing the same stuff,” he told the Mercury News.
When the Mercury News asked him if he will ever coach again, Kerr’s response was succinct. “Hell yeah.”
3. Kerr Had a Spinal Cord Leak Procedure in Early May
During a radio interview with Bloomberg on May 5, Warriors owner Joe Lacob confirmed that Kerr had a spinal cord leak procedure.
“Hopefully the leak was solved; he had another procedure. It’s gone on for nearly two years. Very unusual, I believe,” Lacob said, ESPN notes. “We feel really bad for him, the players. Everybody understands it. We just have to be in his court here and support whatever it takes for him to get back, and I’m sure they will eventually solve it. Hopefully sooner rather than later, and hopefully we’ll have him coaching on the court sooner rather than later.”
In a May 25 interview with the Mercury News, Warriors GM Bob Myers said there’s no deadline for Kerr’s return. He explained that Kerr’s last procedure did help, but it wasn’t enough to get him back to coaching full-time.
“Kind of to be determined,” Myers said when asked about the latest procedure. “Not enough to coach. But he’s here and I guess that’s a positive. He wasn’t in Utah. That’s a hard one. I’m not inside his mind. It’s degrees of better and worse, but not enough to where I can sit here and say he can coach our team.”
4. Kerr Has Been Dealing With the Complications of His 2015 Back Surgery
back in July 2015, Kerr underwent his first back surgery to repair a ruptured disc. He had another follow-up surgery in September 2015. In October of that year, the Warriors announced that he would be taking a leave of absence. He ultimately missed 43 games, returning to the team in January and leading them to the 2016 NBA Finals, where they let a 3-1 lead to the Cavs slip away.
Since the surgeries, Kerr has still been dealing with complications. However, he did coach the entirety of the 2016-17 season.
“You guys saw me at the end of Game 2 [of the Portland series], I was very uncomfortable,” Kerr told reporters in April, The Washington Post notes. “I was uncomfortable at practice the other day. With things getting worse, I decided I couldn’t coach. So as of now, I’m consulting with my doctors, hoping for some improvement and if I get improvement, I’ll get back on the sidelines. But I’m not going to do that until I know I can help the team.”
By the end of May, Kerr was feeling “a little bit better,” but still not well enough to coach.
As Forbes notes, Kerr’s problem has been leaking cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
As the Cleveland Clinic explains:
Cerebral spinal fluid leak results when the fluid around the brain (called cerebral spinal fluid) leaks through a hole through the skull bone. This fluid can either drain from the ear or the nose, depending on where the skull bone is damaged.
5. Kerr Says He’s Using Yoga to Help His Symptoms & Tells People Not to Get Back Surgery
After Kerr announced that he wouldn’t be coaching the Warriors in Game 4 against the Trail Blazers, he told reporters in a press conference that he does not suggest anyone have back surgery. He said he’s been doing yoga every day to help his symptoms.
“I’m not going to go into details on the symptoms. It’s just discomfort and pain and it’s no fun. And I can tell you if you’re listening out there, if you have a back problem, stay away from surgery. I can say that from the bottom of my heart. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Don’t let anybody get in there,” Kerr told reporters.
Star Stephen Curry even noticed that Kerr was not doing well.
“He’s obviously going through a lot physically and that’s first and foremost for him to take care of himself, make sure he’s on the road to recovery and feeling like himself,” Curry said in April. “We’ve got his back, we’ve had certain situations all year, previous years, where players are down and you’ve got the ‘next man up’ philosophy, same with Coach Kerr.”
Since back injuries are so often unsuccessful, there’s even a syndrome called Failed Back Surgery Syndrome, because many patients continue to feel pain after their surgeries.