Jordan had a habit of intimidating fellow Bulls in practice with his physicality, sometimes breaking their spirit to the detriment of the team. One day he tried to bully spindly 6-foot-3 Kerr, who had a long history of never backing down. They ended up in a one-sided fistfight, leaving Kerr with a black eye.
His sister, Susan, was among those who loved the story of the fight, believing it to be a good lesson in standing up for yourself.
Jordan apologized the next day, but his contrition was not as important as his newfound feeling for a supporting cast member who had never dunked a ball and who would start a mere 30 games over a 910-game career. "From that point on," Jordan would say, "I've always respected him. He didn't give up. He fought back. He may have gotten the worst end of it, but I respected him. One hundred percent."
That respect was never more evident than it was in the Game 6 huddle of the 1997 Finals, after Phil Jackson drew up the deciding play for -- who else? -- Jordan. Deep in thought on the bench as he sipped from a Gatorade cup, a white towel draped around his shoulders, Jordan turned to Kerr with an ice-cold look in his eye and said, "Hey, hey," before leaning in and ordering him to be ready in case Utah's Stockton left him to double up on defense.
"If he comes off," Kerr said as he jabbed a finger toward Jordan, "I'll be ready."
On cue, Stockton scrambled over to help on Jordan, who threw the pass to Kerr, who sank the jumper that won the title. As Jordan approached the bench, he grabbed Kerr's head with his right hand and pressed it against his cheek. In the postgame delirium, 4-year-old Nick Kerr scrambled onto the court before his mother ordered the player's brother, Andrew, to chase him down.
In pursuit, Andrew came face-to-face with Steve. "When we played in our driveway, like any kid, we'd count down 3-2-1 and say, 'This is to win it all,'" Andrew said. "And then it really happened. That night Steve just screamed in my ear, 'Can you believe I just hit the game-winning shot in the NBA Finals?'"
Susan watched Steve make that shot on TV in Taiwan. John watched on tape delay in a pizzeria in Sicily, unaware of what had occurred in the final seconds and then exploding into celebration with his wife after the uncontested 17-footer went down. Steve had confided in John that he realized there were only three or four NBA teams he could play for, that he needed the right system and the requisite superstar talent to draw the defense's attention and allow him his open looks. Kerr had found that system in Jackson's triangle and that talent in Jordan and Pippen.
He would follow a three-peat in Chicago by being a contributor to San Antonio's run in 1999, when Kerr used the Popovich-Duncan- David Robinson triangle to become the first non-Celtic to win four straight titles. The Spurs dealt him in 2001, reacquired him in 2002 and watched him in 2003 make huge shots off the bench to help beat Dallas in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals and then New Jersey in Game 5 of the Finals.
"To have Nick around has been special," Kerr said of his son during that championship series victory over the Nets. "And then I think, 'Man, it would've been nice for me to have been the son enjoying this experience with my dad.'"