There is a stigma around NBA players.
That stigma doesn't usually include the words selflessness and humble.
But is this these two characterstics that could have just saved the Golden State Warriors season and a chance at winning a championship. Here's how:
If you've been following the NBA Finals you know that the Golden State Warriors have had all they could handle with the Cleveland Cavs in the first three games. The Cavs had obliterated the Warriors league leading offense by holding them below 100 points in 2 out of the first three games of the series.
MVP Stephen Curry had been shooting around 32% from 3-point range and the Warriors didn't look like the same team in the regular season who achieved on of the greatest point differentials in league history.
Being down 2-1 in the series, Game 4 was a must win for the Warriors who couldn't afford to fall behind 3-1 to Lebron and the Cavs. The Warriors were looking for answers, any kind of spark that would get their team back on track. Here's how they did it:
Good Ideas are the Right Ideas
Going into Game 4 the Warriors coaching staff knew they needed to make a change to have a chance to be competitive. LeBron and the Cavs had stifled their free flowing offense and forced them into a half court game where LeBron could control the pace of the game.
Kerr and his staff had made crucial adjustments throughout the playoffs when things weren't going well and they knew they needed another tweak to get their team back on track offensively. For example in the Western Conference Semis against the Memphis grizzlies, they had Andrew Bogut guard the non-threatening Tony Allen so that he could clog up the lane and slow down the bruising tandom of Mark Gasol and Zach Randolph. This change was suggested by one of Kerr's assistants at the time, and the Warriors changed the momentum of the series en route to a 6 game series win.
Staying true to character, Kerr was once again in search of his next move, and he could have cared less where that advice came from. As the coaching staff was discussing their Game 4 plan, video-scouting specialist Nick U’Ren told Kerr that through he thought they should insert Iguodala and remove Bogut from the starting lineup.
Kerr discussed this idea with his staff and eventually they decided to make the change.
Here's the thing:
Kerr's humility was what allowed him to take the advice of a video guy even though he didn't come up with the idea himself. Great leaders don't care where the advice comes from or who gets the credit. Great leaders value everyone's voice as long as it can help the team.
The warriors went on to win Game 4 in large part because of their decision to play small against the Cavs. One of Kerr's best qualities as a leader is that he 'knows what he doesn't know'. His ego never gets put ahead of the greater good of the team and ultimately his humility could have saved the Warriors season. To read the original story on Kerr's decision click here.
When Team > Me
Andre Iguodala has started every single game in his 10 year NBA career, until this season.
Iguodala has been a consummate fixture in the starting lineups of whatever team he has played on since he stepped into the NBA. At the beginning of this season, Kerr saw that the only way for him to raise the ceiling on his team's potential was to replace Iguogala in the starting lineup with Harrison Barnes.
As Kerr describes it, he thought that Barnes development as a player would need to accelerate if they were going to have a chance to win the title and that Iguodala could give the second unit a calming presence off the bench. He also wanted to limit Iguodala's minutes as the All-Star was approaching his 31st birthday.
Kerr approached Iguodala towards the end of training camp for what would be a series of difficult conversations with the veteran. Ultimately, Iguodala bought into Kerr's reasoning and decided to accept his role as a non-starter. "Iggy" never complained or caused a stir about his "demotion" and was the consummate professional as the Warriors obliterated the rest of the league during the regular season.
Iguodala's chance to step back into the spotlight came in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Kerr inserted him into the starting lineup for the first time all season and Iggy gave Kerr a masterful performance with 22 points, 8 rebounds, and a +/-16 in 39 minutes of play.
How easy would it have been for Iguodala to sulk or pout about his situation?
He has been one of the best players in the NBA for nearly a decade and he could have used that leverage to demand a trade or cause dissension for the rest of his teammates. Instead Iggy did what great leaders do: they live in the moment and strive for excellence in every situation. Iguodala stayed ready and his selflessness very easily could have won this Warriors team a championship.
Sometimes championships are not won and lost on the floor, they are won and lost in the locker room. Steve Kerr and Iguodala made decisions to put team ahead of themselves, and those decisions might be the key to unlocking the Warriors first championship in nearly 40 years.