On the 25th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA, Steve Kerr says that he and so many of Jordan’s former teammates feel a similar emotion as the years go by — gratitude.
Kerr, who played 3½ seasons with Jordan in Chicago from 1995 to 1998, has plenty of stories to tell and memories to share about the player so many believe is the greatest of all time.
“It’s almost impossible to describe the impact he made on the league itself,” Kerr said during a Thursday appearance on Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. “So it’s easier for me to describe the impact he had on my career alone. Because had I never played with Michael, honestly, I don’t think I would have been offered a contract by the Spurs and wouldn’t have had my run with San Antonio. Wouldn’t have been offered a contract with TNT to go into broadcasting. I could argue that all those things were sort of a domino effect and ultimately coaching the Warriors — everything that I’ve been able to enjoy and experience in the NBA was a direct result of playing with Michael Jordan. And I’m not being falsely modest — it’s just the truth.”
Kerr, now the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, still gets asked about Jordan on a regular basis. He understands why Jordan meant so much to so many people and has expressed how much Jordan meant to so many players’ careers.
“Those teams were legendary, and to be a part of those teams and to play with Michael gave me and everybody on that team a chance to put themselves in a position to win championships and be part of something special,” Kerr said. “And it’s affected our lives even to this day. So (former Bulls forward) Jud [Buechler] and I say it all the time, when we do run into Michael, we just give him a little, ‘Thank you,’ or maybe we’re toasting at dinner or something, we hold up a beer and just [say], ‘Thanks, Michael.’ And we just laugh because he’s responsible for a lot of this.”
Teammates Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr would go on to win three titles together on the Chicago Bulls. Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
Kerr has won a combined seven NBA championships — three with the Bulls, one with the San Antonio Spurs and three more as the coach of the Warriors. He says he has repeatedly thanked Jordan for helping him find his niche within the league.
“I’ve run into him every once in a while, maybe once a year, we’ll run into each other,” Kerr said. “Either at an NBA event or a golf tournament or something, and it’s always fun to see him, and he knows, he knows exactly how we all feel about him and the impact he made on all of us. It’s fun to reminisce now, because once everybody’s able to put the sword down and relax and reminisce instead of being in the middle of the fight, you’re able to really cut to the chase and think of the good times and think of all the impact that the team had on each other and on the NBA. It was a lot of fun.”
Kerr recalled just how much hoopla surrounded Jordan’s return on Sunday, March 19, 1995, against the Indiana Pacers. It was Jordan’s first game in almost two years, after he abruptly retired from basketball and played baseball in the Chicago White Sox minor league system for over a year. Jordan was rusty in what was a 103-96 overtime road loss for the Bulls, as Jordan made only 7-of-28 field goals for 19 points to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
“The way I remember it, we were kind of slogging through the latter part of the season,” Kerr said. “We weren’t playing that well. And Michael showed up to practice for the first time in a year and a half, since he retired, and he just shot around one day. And then he came back the next day and then we saw him in Phil’s office (Jackson, head coach) … we’re thinking, ‘What’s he doing? What’s going on? And when he came back a third straight day it was like, ‘This is different.This is not a guy just getting some shots up because he misses the game.’
“So when he decided to come back, we sort of had an idea that [his return] was coming, but when it actually did it was just an incredible moment for all of us. Just to realize that we were about to get a chance to play with him.”
Kerr had to laugh several times during the interview as he remembered just how crazy of a scene it was to have Jordan back around the team. He specifically remembered a conversation he had with Buechler as the pair traveled to the airport in advance of the flight to Indianapolis.
“I think we had already played 65 games maybe, and so we’re on the way to the airport to go to Indianapolis and I said, ‘Jud, what is Phil going to do?'” Kerr recalled. “We’ve already had 65 games. Michael hasn’t been here for almost two years — you think he’ll start him? Will he bring him off the bench? What’s he going to do?’ And Jud, without skipping a beat, he goes, ‘Steve, Steve, Steve, listen, as a general rule, when you have your own statue outside the building, you’re in the starting lineup.’ So I will always remember that comment from Jud, and the timing was perfect and we laughed. The next night was that game in Indianapolis — it was surreal, it really was.”
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On March 28, 1995, Michael Jordan dropped 55 on the Knicks as he was working his way back into NBA shape.
As much as the Bulls enjoyed having Jordan back, Kerr acknowledged that the six-time NBA Finals MVP wasn’t always an easy person to get along with in practice. Jordan famously punched Kerr in one practice during their tenure, a fact Kerr remembered on Thursday.
“He was tough on everybody,” Kerr said of Jordan. “But that was kind of his philosophy, that if you weren’t tough enough to handle a practice situation with Michael maybe coming after you verbally or attacking you with the ball one-on-one, if you weren’t tough enough to deal with that, he said there’s no way you were going to be able to handle a playoff game. That was his philosophy, and he absolutely would test any new guy.
“So I passed the test. I got a black eye for it, but I passed.”