The year was 1997 and Steve Kerr had just sunk the game winning shot in the NBA Finals decisive Game 6 against the Utah Jazz. The man, the myth, the legend, Michael Jordan, had unselfishly dumped off to Kerr at the top of the key for the dagger three pointer that cemented yet another championship for the Chicago franchise. The first "threepeat" cast featured John Paxson, Craig Hodges, and a host of other nondescript outlet men. This was Kerr's moment to shine, and to etch his name in the annals of NBA history.
The champagne was drying in his spiky blond hair and the ruckus of the locker room celebration had dimmed to a few cheerful murmurs. A lone figure lumbered over from the far end of the room to greet and embrace him for the last time that evening. It was Phil Jackson.
"Steve...thank you," Jackson said in a calm voice. A smile rounded broadly across the coach's face. "You made it happen. That was your moment. Team ball. Team win. Team, Steve. Team."
Kerr nodded in agreement. He had little idea that his career would twist and turn from here to there, including a stop with the next great championship machine, the San Antonio Spurs. At that moment, there was only zen. "It was...wonderful," Kerr blurted out. It was hard to think of anything else to say, but he knew the coach could read his mind. He had a knack for that sort of telepathic connection.
"One day, Steve, you'll come work for me. There's a quest ahead that calls to me, and I think you will be called when the time is right. The stars will align and you will find me waiting."
Of course, Kerr had no idea what Phil Jackson was talking about, chalking it up to the eccentricity of an old 60s guy with too much champagne in his belly. Still, he'd witnessed Jackson's clairvoyance before from his seat on the bench and he'd learned to believe in magic, if only a little bit. "I'll be on the lookout, coach," he replied. Kerr briefly studied his coach's face before grabbing his towel and running off to the showers. He could faintly make out Jackson's voice singing the old Sinatra standard "New York, New York" as the distance between the men grew greater and the sound of the shower head shut out everything but his innermost thoughts.
"Mike Woodson Fired," the Google Alert read on his cellphone. For weeks the media had been speculating on the new Knicks' president replacing embattled head coach Mike Woodson with Kerr, but he'd tried to shut it out. He'd been in contact with Jackson over the years since he'd retired, but the Knicks were never on the radar. The whole thing was a big mess. "Why would Phil make Dolan's MSG his last home," he thought to himself. Surely, he'd be the Lakers' president and run out the clock on his basketball life from LA. Magic Johnson seemed incredulous that the Lakers kept him out. Still, there was something intriguing about putting good heads together to rescue the mess in New York. There's no better place to win, even if there's no worse place to lose. Phil never thought much about losing. Frankly, he never thought much about winning either. He mainly thought a lot about balance and flow and unity. Beautiful basketball is winning basketball. Balanced systems are winning systems. The game is an art and winning is simply a matter of channeling one's motivation, focus, and determination into mindfulness. It's more about finding the optimum channel and allowing the flow to take over, rather than imposing one's will on the game. The game is too big for all that.
The phone rang. "Steve, it's time."
Kerr instinctively knew what Jackson meant and arranged to meet with his friend and coach while in New York working the playoffs for TNT. Jackson beckoned him to his rented apartment, where the details of the Knicks' open coaching position would be one of many topics to be covered. When Kerr arrived, the doorman sent him up the elevator to Jackson's apartment. The wait in the lobby seemed unusually long, and Kerr began to feel impatient. There was a lot of excitement and trepidation in the air, and he was eager to get on with business. The doors opened and Kerr entered the space alone. Second Floor. Third Floor. Fourth floor. Suddenly, the elevator ground to a halt and the lights went out. Kerr was trapped in total darkness somewhere between the fourth and fifth floors. "Shit," he said aloud. How long would he have to wait before someone came to help?
A feint flicker emerged in the space above his head. At first it was dim and intermittent, but soon the flicker became a bright sparkle, dancing and flitting about. Kerr feared that the elevator had caught fire for a moment, but recognized immediately that there was no heat. An odd calm hung in the air. This was clearly supernatural.
Soon the physical environment began to fade away. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the space were no longer apparent and Kerr quickly forgot which direction could be called "up," or "down." The rules of the physical world no longer seemed to apply, and the ethereal swirl of eternity wrapped around him like a warm blanket, comforting and familiar. He'd vaguely experienced this sensation once before in his life. It was in the brief moment when the ball left Jordan's fingertips back in 1997. That infinitely small time when Jordan had released control, offering it to Kerr, was occupied by the same nothingness/everythingness he was now experiencing again.
Strings of words were spoken aloud, disembodied and vast. There was no ignoring the speech, but it wasn't speech for ears so much as speech for the whole being. Every atom reverberated with meaning, and Kerr felt transformed. The words were cosmic rays...gamma rays....radioactive spider bites. Wisdom seemed to seep into his pores from outside, and yet originate from somewhere within. Bang. Lights on.
Suddenly, the elevator began to move. The walls, floor, and ceiling were in perfect physical order and the lights were as bright as day. The only change in the environment was the direction of the elevator. He was headed back down. The doors of the elevator soon opened into the lobby again, and Kerr stepped out. The doorman greeted him, asking how his visit went. Kerr smiled politely and walked out into the New York night. Once outside, an intrepid young reporter, smartphone in hand, approached. "How was your meeting with Phil Jackson, Steve? Any comment?"
Kerr stared blankly for a moment. He turned his eyes towards the young man. "The rookies have the answer." And with that cryptic reply, Kerr strode off into the night. The young reporter stood puzzled and wondered what the two men had been smoking up in that apartment. Dejected, he walked home and pondered another career.
Steve Kerr gave his first place vote for Rookie of the Year to Tim Hardaway, Jr.. Somewhere a young, hopeful sports writer sat up in his chair. Somewhere, a zen master sits in the Lotus position, the secrets of eternity swirling about him outside the confines of time and space. Somewhere, Steve Kerr percolates with the energy of the universe. Newfound power courses through his being. Infinite as the span of dimensions. Dense as the heart of a supernova. Eternal as the flow of divine power. The next coach of your New York Knicks....and just maybe the first coach as well. Whatever that means.