Steve Kerr received a rousing ovation Sunday night as he returned to the bench at last.
Kerr is back coaching the Golden State Warriors after more than six weeks, feeling well enough that he plans to coach the remainder of the NBA Finals.
Smiling, cracking jokes and looking more comfortable than he has in recent weeks, Kerr declared himself ready to be back on the bench for Game 2 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the first time he coached the Warriors since April 19.
He waved to the fans who roared when he walked onto the floor shortly before the start.
Kerr said he decided Sunday morning that he was able to return to coaching after being sidelined by constant pain because of complications following a pair of back surgeries nearly two years ago.
“The intention is to coach tonight and the rest of the series,” said Kerr, who last coached in Game 2 of the Warriors’ first-round playoff series against Portland. “I’m feeling better. I’m feeling more like I did at the end of the regular season. Last couple weeks have been good in terms of running practice, film sessions, coaches meetings, that kind of stuff. I wanted to string together a few good days. I did that, and feeling well enough to coach. … The intention is to go the rest of the series.
“So, I’m excited and it’s good to be back.”
The unbeaten Warriors had been 11-0 under acting coach Mike Brown _ “My guy did OK while I was gone,” Kerr said with a grin. Kerr had his initial procedures in 2015 after guiding the organization’s first championship in 40 years as a rookie coach.
“What’s our record now without me, like 800-12?” quipped Kerr, who missed the first 43 games during last season’s record 73-win campaign.
The 51-year-old Kerr underwent a procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak on May 5 at Duke University but was still experiencing debilitating symptoms such as pain and headaches. He attended the pregame news conference Sunday and said he had not yet told his players that he would be back coaching, though said they knew in recent days that he was improving.
There was a lot of positive reaction to the news of Kerr’s return.
“It’s awesome,” Klay Thompson said. “I’m so excited. Mike did a phenomenal job though.”
Former coach and player Al Attles said it was “terrific” news.
“There’s an old saying, ‘You don’t miss the water ’til the well runs dry,”’ the 80-year-old Attles said after receiving the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s not a reflection on who was coaching. He’s just a man that we really, really respect and hope that he keeps on doing it.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue also was thrilled to hear Kerr was back on the opposite bench.
“Steve Kerr’s a guy I respected even before he started coaching,” Lue said. “I just like who he is as a person, and throughout the course of the playoffs I’ve checked on him and we text and talk. So it’s good to have him back over there.”