Sunday, July 14, 2024

Mutual respect between LeBron, Kerr reaches new heights with Team USA

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LAS VEGAS – Greatness has to be felt on a personal level to be fully understood — especially the process of what it takes to make the extraordinary become routine. 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who is leading Team USA Men’s Basketball one last time at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, knows he was lucky enough to bear witness to greatness in his playing career, being coached by the likes of Lute Olsen, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Lenny Wilkens, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. Kerr also played alongside some of basketball’s Herculean heroes in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. 

For the last decade of Golden State’s dynasty, Kerr has watched from the sidelines as Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala helped bring four championship parades to the Bay Area. He knows the work that went behind them becoming multiple-time champions, and he arrived right as Curry began evolving from a baby-faced, skinny-armed 3-point shooter into the kind of superstar who will be remembered for generations to come. 

Now after years of competing against one another, Kerr has another opportunity to do something he never fathomed: Coach LeBron James. And he already can’t believe his eyes. 

Not because of James’ talent that has him behind one man and one man only when making lists of the best to ever pick up a basketball. But how he approaches the job the second his alarm clock goes off. 

“I was blown away by how hard he practices,” Kerr said Saturday after Team USA’s first training camp practice at UNLV. “And I went to [assistant coach Ty Lue] and [assistant coach Erik Spoelstra] and I said, ‘Is this normal?’ They said, ‘Every day, every day.’ To Spo I said, ‘What about way back when you got him?’ Spo said, ‘Every day. Every drill, every walkthrough.’” 

James will be 40 years old in December. Nicknamed King James and the Chosen One for obvious reasons, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer who was born in the same hospital as Curry in Akron, Ohio, continues to dip, duck and dodge the many obstacles Father Time has thrown his way after 21 years as a pro.

Curry, 36, and James are the two oldest players on Team USA’s roster which features five players in their 20s and seven players 30 years old and up. They also are the shining examples of everything required to one day be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 

Anthony Edwards is the team’s youngest player at 22, and he might have the best chance at being the next face of basketball, starting in the immediate future. He also famously barely lasted a workout that Curry regularly goes through before the 2020 draft in front of Kerr and a staff of Warriors personnel. Saturday began a summer school session that Edwards and everybody else can take note of when watching every move Curry and James make on and off the court in order to have the American flag behind them atop the medal stand in Paris. 

“I’m used to that watching Steph,” Kerr said. “I think there’s a reason those guys are two of the greatest of all time. It’s not just the talent. It’s the incredible work ethic. And the attention to detail and the force with which they practice translates to how they play in the games and to how their teams play, because they lead the way.” 

Kerr and Curry met James on the NBA’s biggest stage in four straight Finals, with the Warriors coming out as champions on three occasions and James slaying what looked like an impossibility in 2016. All three spoke over the summer about what it will take to wear a gold medal around their neck, and how all three can feed off each other. 

The competitiveness is what sparks their respect. They wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“There’s always been mutual respect obviously,” James said. “We’re both competitors. He’s a competitor as a coach and he was a competitor as a player. I’m a competitor as a player, and we’ve had some of the same goals in mind each and every year for quite some a while – and that’s to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. 

“But it’s mostly just mutual respect and admiration. I’m happy to be on the same side as him right now, and also happy to be on the same side as his point guard as well with Steph being here too, so that’s going to be pretty fun.” 

Basketball as a whole has made a complete change globally since the 1992 Dream Team brought the game to unimaginable places. There won’t be players from other countries bowing down and asking for autographs from Steph, LeBron or any of Team USA’s superstars. 

If all goes to plan, however, we’ll all be witness to an unforgettable show made for the big screen. Not without James and Curry, the team’s two elder statesmen, making every second count. 

“I just feel incredibly honored to be coaching LeBron, and it’s definitely way better to coach him than coach against him,” Kerr said. “I can tell you that.”

Ask James that same question, and it’s clear the same thing will be said about now being on the same side as Curry and Kerr, as opposed to watching them celebrate his second-place defeat.

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