With the NBA on hold until the end of July, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr combined his sports media acumen with his current job to create a podcast, Flying Coach, where coaches chat with himself and co-host Pete Carroll. In a recent episode, Kerr and Rivers discussed the use of cell phones in NBA locker rooms and how much it’s changed basketball culture since their own playing days.
Cell phones in the NBA
When Kerr and Rivers stormed the court in the ’90s, cell phones were around. But they were far different from the miniature computers players use today. Phone calls and pagers could distract players in many ways, but they didn’t have access to info and social media yet.
On the one hand, this change has worked for good. Players now engage with fans personally. Furthermore, social media helps athletes get involved in social issues. Players have the right to remain silent. But in a world where their voice holds lots of power, silence is not always the best option.
On the other side of the coin, however, cell phones are a distraction. In a perfect world, they would only be used for good. However, players are getting increasingly involved outside of sports. Their communication with agents, managers, and fans can turn into a distraction. The dynamic is unlike anything Kerr and Rivers faced during their playing days. This adjustment can be hard as both title-winning coaches adjust.
Doc Rivers and ‘the bad news phone’
Harkening back to The Last Dance, Rivers spoke about how different it was for players like Michael Jordan. The scrutiny was harsh, but it was tame compared to what modern athletes face. Jordan developed a reputation as a gambler and partier. Still, he also became known for his dedication and ability to turn a switch and focus on basketball. After all, NBA players were not businessmen, rappers, entertainers, and investors like they are today.
“The kids are different, too,” Rivers told Kerr. ” You know, I thought [in] The Last Dance, you could see that in ways. We were just basketball players. We didn’t have a brand; we didn’t have a lot of distractions. I thought winning was so important for us when I was in the NBA because there was nothing else you were playing for. You know, other than your contract, you were playing to win a championship.”
With all the positives that come in the communication age, Rivers sees cell phones as a distraction from what makes sports best. Players’ lives can change instantly as texting and social media are often their source for news about themselves. This can happen when they least expect it.
“I call it ‘The Bad News Phone’ because, at halftime, it’s only bad news for us coming out of that phone,” Rivers told Kerr. Kerr elaborated on this notion.
Steve Kerr on cell phones in the NBA
Kerr, who saw the good and bad of Jordan’s prime as a teammate and opponent, said the adjustment can be hard. While he wants players to express themselves freely, reports Yahoo Sports, he also wants them to know that when basketball is happening, the outside world can wait.
“It’s interesting too because you have to decide as a coach in the modern era, Am I going to be the coach that says no phones?” Kerr asked. “Am I going to be that guy like the old-school guy? Like, hey, no phones.’ Because it’s really unrealistic, right? You gotta give them some leeway so I just try to use some humor with it.”
Whatever the answer is, both coaches know times are different for athletes. Sticking to sports is no longer good enough, especially during trying times like these. Both seem to know that there are ways to embrace this without overstepping their bounds. With Kerr coming off of a legendary hot streak and Rivers leading perhaps, another dynasty himself, their methods may work as they strive to win it all.