The Golden State Warriors' hot start has inspired some hot takes. Ron Harper, formerly of the storied 72-win 1996 Chicago Bulls, claimed that squad would have swept the NBA's current reigning champs. If the topic wasn't already in the sports debate bloodstream, this served as a direct injection. It's an official barstool argument now: 2016 Warriors, 1996 Bulls, who ya got?
For Steve Kerr, that's quite a confusing question. He's the only person involved who'd be on both teams, fighting against himself. But Kerr still loves the absurd subject, even though it means fathoming a situation in which his loyalties are divided by time itself. It's understandable that Kerr, still out of commission with back surgery complications, would crave the ability to compete twice at once.
Knowing that, I caught up with the Warriors coach about what might happen in a literally impossible scenario.
Steve Kerr: I have to start out by saying the human side of me, so I'm in the locker room last night, watching the game, Van Gundy's talking about the '96 Bulls compared to this team. Sitting there, I'm like, "Damn it, I should be coaching this team, I should be out there." And then in the press conference afterward, somebody would be asking me about this whole '96 Bulls thing, and I love this stuff! This is so much fun. God, I miss this. It's killing me.
You have to be lying about that. After the heat of the moment and coaching a game, you'd want to answer hypothetical questions about things that can never happen?
Kerr: I would! I love this stuff. It's so fun. Obviously, it's a lot more fun when you're 14-0, but no, I love all this stuff.
So, what are your initial thoughts on this very realistic matchup?
Kerr: My initial thoughts are that it is literally impossible to even compare, because the rules are so different and the eras are so different. We would overload the strong side on [Michael] Jordan, and they would call illegal defense; and they would put their hands all over [Stephen] Curry, and the refs would call a foul. That make sense?
It makes sense. So let us do a compromise. We keep handchecks and take away illegal defense. How do you, as an analyst, see it going?
Kerr: Ah, well that's interesting. The only thing I know for sure is I had no chance to guard Steph. So I would say, we would probably have had to put a combination of Scottie [Pippen] and Harp [Ron Harper] on Steph.
You didn't expect this to be hard, did you?
Kerr: No. I do think that we would have -- when I say "we," I'm saying from a playing standpoint. I mean, this is hard to even know whether I'm saying "we" or "they."
This is ridiculous.
Kerr: It is ridiculous. I do think the game would have gone small, because the Bulls' bigs at the time were not offensive enough to stay on the floor. I'm going to have to say, 'the Bulls" and "the Warriors." I can't say "we" and "they" because nobody will know what the hell I'm talking about. So, the Bulls' bigs would have had to exit. So, you would have had an epic [Dennis] Rodman versus Draymond Green matchup.
Former Bull Bill Wennington is very confident that Chicago would win. Do you use that as bulletin board material? Do you punish Wennington in some way?
Kerr: [Laughs] I'm pretty sure I wouldn't. I would probably not be too concerned about what Bill Wennington said.
What about Ron Harper, who's been very vocal. Do you give him the treatment where -- I know he wasn't the best 3-point shooter -- Andrew Bogut guards him?
Kerr: Oh. Yeah. There's a good chance Bogut gets the Ron Harper assignment. That's where the triangle offense comes into play. I will give my salute to the triangle here. It was very difficult to do that sort of thing to the triangle because of the constant movement and the actions. You had a lot of ability to move people around, and you had a lot of back cuts. It would have been very difficult to do that sort of thing to the triangle.
How do you deal with the space-time continuum disaster of coaching against your 30-year-old self? Are you at all worried that there's a butterfly effect and something will go wrong, and Kim Kardashian is our dictator? Or is just all about getting the W?
Kerr: How did Kim Kardashian become our dictator?
I don't know, it's the butterfly effect! You've seen "Back to the Future." You do one thing and something can go horribly wrong in the future.
Kerr: Is Michael J. Fox involved in here somewhere too?
Something like that. You know, you see yourself in the photo, and you disappear -- that whole business. You change one thing from the past and it changes the future. You've seen movies, it's a legitimate concern, yes?
Kerr: It is a concern. But I could get rid of these headaches too.
So it's worth it just because that outcome could be positive?
Kerr: Yes. Yes. Maybe I can eliminate the back surgery.
You could warn yourself.
Kerr: Yeah, I could warn myself from the future: "Don't get back surgery."
Are you worried you might beat 30-year-old you so badly that 30-year-old you won't listen to the advice?
Kerr: [Laughs] Yeah. Exactly. You know it's funny, when I started doing this job, video game commentary couple years ago, and I became the Warriors coach. One of the guys at [NBA] 2K, they were laughing, they said, "Next year, you will actually be able to play, coach and announce in the exact same game."
So that's not too weird compared to this scenario.
Kerr: This is not as weird as the video game.
So how would you attack yourself? What would you do?
Kerr: Well, you know, what makes the Warriors so unique is the versatility, and so I would have had a nightmarish time playing against the Warriors, because I wouldn't have been able to find anybody to guard. Nobody can guard Steph, so I would have had an impossible time trying to do that. So, I don't even know where to begin on that front. But offensively, our team, we don't really try to pick on anyone. Our whole philosophy is, "Let it come out in the wash." We just push the ball and move it, pass and cut, movement, all that stuff.
What about the Rodman versus Draymond matchup you talked about. Who gets the better of that?
Kerr: That would have been fun to watch, wouldn't it? You know, Draymond's a much more skilled basketball player in terms of ballhandling and playmaking and shooting, making 3s, that kind of thing. I think Dennis was a real inspiration to Draymond, though, in terms of the hustle and the rebounding. Nobody's ever rebounded like Dennis since Dennis. He had a way of impacting games emotionally that reminds me a lot of Draymond. I imagine there would have been a few technicals involved. Maybe a fight or two.
Do you see Michael Jordan guarding Steph for long stretches? Do you see Scottie Pippen guarding Klay Thompson for long stretches?
Kerr: Well, I think the biggest similarity between the two teams is the versatility defensively. The Bulls teams, [former college and Warriors coach] Johnny Bach used to call Scottie and Michael "Dobermans." And Scottie, Michael, Dennis and Ron Harper, those guys would switch everything. That was the first team I was ever part of or that I ever saw that would just switch 1 through 4. And we could even switch 1 through 5 when we had [Toni] Kukoc out there. So in some ways, that team was like a precursor to the Warriors. So with the right matchups out there, you could have seen 10 players all switching on each other.
Do you have an unfair advantage because you were immersed in the offense you're coaching against?
Kerr: [Laughs] Not really. Not really. I'm not sure how that would have helped much.
So I need a prediction from you, on this very serious topic. In my hypothetical where handchecking is OK and allowed, but you can play any kind of defense you want and that's allowed, what's the final score?
Kerr: No comment.
You won't comment on a hypothetical that can never happen?
Kerr: Yeah. I refuse to comment on the score of this hypothetical game that would never happen.
But what if it takes place on Pluto?
Kerr: Oh, well if it takes place on Pluto, then I believe it would hinge on a step-back Steph Curry 3 over Michael Jordan at the buzzer. And we'll never know if it goes in or not.