Dr O's Blog

A 2016 Comcast Sports Network Bay Area segment on the Golden State Warriors’ 2015-2016 ascent to NBA champions featured interviews of more players behind the scenes than on the court. My mind lit up when Bob Myers, General Manager, recited Steve Kerr’s four principles of coaching the team: joy, mindfulness, compassion, and competition. Wow! Double epiphany! One, Myers could recite them. Two, those principles are likely the real story of how Kerr transformed this team into champions.

A simple litmus test of a healthy organization is how many of its people can state its core values and why it exists. I don’t know if Kerr’s principles reflect those of the Warriors organization overall. There must be something they have in common, given Myers was named the 2014-2015 NBA Basketball Executive of the Year and President and COO Rick Welts’ marketing and operational expertise has over 20,000 people on the season ticket holder waiting list. But that Myers knows exactly what drives his key talent says a lot about the connectedness of the culture.

When Steve Kerr was hired in 2013, I immediately felt the decision was a game changer, even without knowing much about his coaching ability. What I did know was a little more about his life and career. I’m not going to attempt to summarize it here, but if you haven’t looked into who Steve Kerr is, start with his freshman year at University of Arizona and explore what he’s lived through and achieved up to this first NBA coaching gig.

Fans know that while Kerr recovered from complications of back surgery during the summer, assistant coach, Luke Walton, assumed the role of interim head coach at the beginning of the season and led the team to 43 consecutive wins. But throughout his absence from the game, Kerr’s presence and principles were always felt. He occasionally attended practices and often watched the games from the locker room. One the evening in November when the Dubs were about to break the record for 16 consecutive wins to start are season, Walton told the press

“He just reminded everybody, he put [the principles] on the white board before we started shoot around and he reminded the guys what those values were. He emphasized to them how proud he was watching them, because we’re hitting all four of those values.”

The first principle, joy, is probably the most obvious to fans. These guys have fun playing and cheering for each other. I sometimes enjoy watching players on the bench as much as I do the five on the court. “It’s a long season and the game’s meant to be fun” is another one of Kerr’s reminders. Mindfulness to the Warriores is thinking about the game and focusing on being a team, not relying on one’s individual talent to best an opponent, or improving personal stats. Compassion is caring about each other and the game of basketball, which also shows up in what some of the Warriors have done outside of the game. Competition is evident in how these guys hate to lose, breaking record after NBA record this golden season – Strength in Numbers!

Another litmus test: an indicator of effective leadership is how people continue to perform highly when they’re not around. In an interview before Kerr’s return, Walton affirmed “When we hit those four things we’re not only very tough to beat, but we’re very fun to watch, we’re very fun to coach, we’re very fun to be around.” But giving credit to Walton, center Andre Bogut pointed out during Kerr’s absence, “Luke let us play like Steve does, and made sure we kept to our principles, made sure there was no slippage. But we have a professional group in this locker room. I don’t think that situation works with probably 20, 25 teams out of 30 in the league.” Guard Klay Thompson added, “Coach has been great, even behind the scenes. You can tell Luke is kind of an extension from him.”

Joy. Mindfulness. Compassion. Competition. Powerful and deeply personal ways of being. Except for the last value, a set of principles one may not associate with sports teams, as Bogut points out. But if you haven’t put your finger on what makes the Golden State Warriors such a phenomena, beyond the exceptional talent of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala’s cohesive bench team, it’s Kerr’s four principles of coaching. Of leadership.

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