SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – After a lifetime steeped in basketball as a fan, player and coach, Steve Kerr is embracing the “mystique” of the Boston Celtics as he leads the Golden State Warriors into the NBA finals on Thursday.
Kerr grew up in Los Angeles as a fan of the Magic Johnson-era “Showtime” Lakers, and was a spectator at the Forum in the 1980s for the franchise’s epic duels with Larry Bird and the Celtics.
In the early stages of his playing career, Kerr lined up against Bird and relished every opportunity of competing in the old Boston Garden arena.
On Thursday, Kerr will face off against the Celtics for the first time in what is his 11th trip to the NBA Finals.
“There’s a mystique that exists with the Celtics for sure,” Kerr said Thursday. “Incredible franchise, incredible history.
“For me, just having grown up watching those games and being a fan, it’s pretty cool to be coaching in the Finals against them.”
Kerr was a witness to one of the most notorious moments in NBA Finals history, when Boston’s Kevin McHale flattened the Lakers’ Kurt Rambis with a brutal clothesline foul in game four of the 1984 series.
The incident was widely seen as a momentum-shifting flashpoint in a hardfought series that the Celtics would go on to win 4-3.
“I grew up watching Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird go at it in the ’80s,” Kerr said. “I was sitting literally in the last row of the Forum when Kevin McHale took out Kurt Rambis and changed the series.
“Some of my favorite memories as a player were playing in Boston Garden. I remember starting a game early in my career — we had a couple guys injured — and going out to half court and bumping fists. Larry Bird actually said, ‘Good luck, Steve.’
“I was like, ‘You, too, Larry.’ I was like, what is happening right now? It was surreal. It was thrilling to be on the Garden floor. “
The Celtics fault-line that has appeared through Kerr’s NBA career is also mirrored by Warriors star Klay Thompson.
Thompson, whose father Mychal was a member of the Showtime Lakers, was in the crowd at the Staples Center in 2010 when a Kobe Bryant-inspired Los Angeles defeated the Celtics in game seven of the Finals.
“Life comes full circle, now being able to play them in the Finals,” Thompson said. “I was watching them in college, Game 7, at Staples, with my dad in 2010, and now it’s 12 years later, and I get to play the team that I was rooting against. It’s amazing.”
Thompson sees parallels between the current generation of Celtics players and the Golden State side he was a part of who emerged in the mid-2010s to become the dominant NBA franchise of the last decade.
“I think they are pretty much the age we were back then, in their mid 20s,” Thompson said. “You have to give that organization credit.
“I feel like (Jaylen) Brown and (Jayson) Tatum and (Marcus) Smart have been there for ten years already. They worked hard to get here, just like we did.
“We respect them, and they present unique challenges to us. But it’s just going to be a dogfight. We know how physical and athletic they are, and we expect a hard-fought series.”