In his 30 years of coaching high school ball in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, Jerry Marvin did not meet a more agreeable kid than Steve Kerr. The teenager never challenged Marvin's authority or put his own interests ahead of the team's in the hope of attracting the recruiters who were off chasing faster, better guards.
But there was a good reason major colleges didn't find Kerr worthy of a scholarship -- Marvin didn't, either. "To be honest with you, no, I didn't think Steve was a Division I player," he said recently by phone. "He was a coach's dream, so smart and unselfish. But people thought, 'Hey, look, you're a slow white guy who can't dunk.'"
Marvin had coached Kiki Vandeweghe, so he knew a can't-miss prospect when he saw one. Kerr? Marvin did what he could for him. Gonzaga brought in Kerr for a look, then bailed after John Stockton treated him like a drill cone in scrimmages. Marvin persuaded the new coach at the University of Arizona, Lute Olson, to drop by a summer league game, and they sat together in the stands while Kerr was busy underwhelming the guest of honor.
Marvin told Olson all about Kerr's kindness and intangible grace. "I don't think Steve will ever play any for me," Olson said, "but I have an opening, and he sounds like the kind of kid I'd like to have on the squad."
Kerr freed himself from a verbal commitment to Cal State Fullerton and became a star at Arizona, a shooter good enough to lead the Wildcats to the 1988 Final Four and to make himself the 50th pick in that June's draft. He won three championship rings with Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan in Chicago, then two more with Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, before becoming a TNT broadcaster, the general manager of the Phoenix Suns and now the coach of the Golden State Warriors.
Kerr's has been a wildly improbable basketball journey. When Marvin was asked what he would have said 30 years ago if someone had told him Kerr would go on to win five NBA titles, make one championship-clinching shot off a pass from the greatest player of all time and become the most accurate 3-point shooter in league history, the retired coach said, "I would've laughed him out of the gym, no offense to Steve."
No offense taken. Kerr has long held a humble view on a charmed career path he never saw coming, one that now leaves him coaching a Warriors team with a far superior roster to the team in New York that could've been his. For a deal of five years and $25 million, Kerr stunned the basketball world by remaining true to his California roots and rejecting an offer from his mentor, Phil Jackson, to take over the Knicks. Golden State represents the former UCLA ball boy's first coaching job since he helped John Wooden's scorekeeper, Herb Furth, run a junior high league while playing for the Pacific Palisades varsity.
In the days before the Warriors hired Kerr, Marvin was thrilled that his former player had exceeded his expectations. "Nobody knows the game better than Steve," he maintained, "and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
But the old coach has been around long enough to know where nice guys usually finish.