Steve Kerr is connected to many of the greatest players in NBA history as a coach and player, but there is none he’s more synonymous with than Michael Jordan. As a teammate of Jordan during the Bull’s second threepeat, Kerr had a front-row seat to the height of Jordan’s popularity in the NBA and the last years of his dominant run with the Bulls. It wasn’t always easy being around Jordan, and Kerr has been candid about how downright scary it could be.
Steve Kerr’s welcome to the NBA moment
Steve Kerr came into the NBA as a second-round pick, meaning that his likelihood of becoming a success story was even smaller than the average player. He worked hard at the legendary basketball program in Arizona to get the attention he needed in the NBA.
He’d become the 50th overall pick in the 1988 draft. This happened to coincide with Jordan’s legendary rise, and while Kerr was not yet a teammate, Michael Jordan made an impact on his career right away.
One of Kerr’s first NBA experiences came against Jordan during a preseason exhibition pitting his Phoenix Suns against Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. According to Kerr, just seeing Jordan in that context was enough to make him shake inside his basketball shoes, but Jordan went above and beyond this to let Kerr know that he was now in the big leagues.
Kerr told his former co-workers at TNT that Jordan got the ball right in front of the bench, adding to his nerves. Then, Jordan looked him in the eye and brought this to the next level.
“He holds the ball out and he looks right at me, and I’m on the bench,” Kerr said. “He holds the ball out and says, ‘Watch this!’ And he turns, and he went right around Dan Majerle, [and] bam! Dunks it, looks back at our bench and just starts laughing.”
This made Kerr question his entire place in the NBA, and the two would cross paths many times before becoming teammates.
Steve Kerr and Michael Jordan
After an unspectacular year in Phoenix, Steve Kerr would move on to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he got to see the team go head-to-head with Michael Jordan as he disposed of them dramatically multiple times.
These run-ins did let the Bulls see what Kerr was worth, however, and they might have been what eventually secured a spot on the roster for Kerr.
Kerr has credited this move with helping him break out of his shell and gain the confidence he would need during the latter half of his career. Jordan wasn’t there when Kerr first joined. He was off playing baseball during his first retirement. Upon joining the team at the end of the 1995 season, Kerr was immediately taken by the gravitas that Jordan displayed.
As frightening as Jordan was as an opponent, he might have been even more frightening during practices and on sidelines as a teammate.
Teammates with Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan was always opinionated about everything, and occasionally people fought back when he spoke. Steve Kerr was one of these people during a practice with the Bulls. According to Kerr, he disagreed with Jordan’s outspoken ranting once and spoke up. The result turned violent.
“I disagreed with him one time,” Kerr told Dan Patrick on his radio show. “I think he punched me in the face. It was one of the best things that ever happened for me, I needed to stand up and go back at him, I think I earned some respect. But we have a great relationship ever since… you gotta prove it and then once you prove it, you’re fine.”
Kerr does not speak negatively about this aspect of their relationship, however. In fact, he credits Jordan’s feisty streak with helping him become the respected player he was. While Kerr was never a star player, he was a focal point of the team’s shooting schemes and was able to hit big shots alongside Jordan for three more championships.
Jordan was not a perfect player or teammate, but he knew how to get the most out of those who played alongside him and the results spoke to this. From early on, he had an impact on Kerr, and that bond would continue for the rest of their careers. Jordan might be frightening, but without him, Kerr may not be where he is today.