LOL with the Warriors' staff

ByRamona Shelburne ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

OAKLAND -- By this point in the year, Alvin Gentry really should have seen something coming. But a couple of crazy travel days, final interviews with the New Orleans Pelicans and then the rush of being chosen as the head coach who will get to shepherd the prime years of Anthony Davis' career had lulled him into a false sense of security.

Gentry had spent the off day on Sunday breaking down film of the Cleveland Cavaliers defense and coming up with a game plan for how the Warriors should attack it in the NBA Finals. And as usual, he'd sent off clips of a few dozen plays to Nick U'Ren, the Warriors' video coordinator, to present at the Golden State Warriors' Monday morning film session.

"I start in like, 'Guys, here are some of the plays we ran against them that really worked well,'" Gentry says. "And I look at the screen and it's all a bunch of fricking Pelicans highlights.

"They've got captions under the plays like, 'Boy, this team has a lot of potential.' There's this play with Anthony Davis dunking and the caption says, 'God, this guy is GOOD!'"

The whole room started rolling. Head coach Steve Kerr had told Gentry to go off to New Orleans over the weekend to finalize the job offer because the Warriors weren't doing anything substantive.

But with the Finals set to begin on Thursday, it was time to get serious and focus in now. And Gentry, already feeling a smidge of guilt for missing the light weekend practices despite Kerr's insistence that he go, was ready to lock in.

"At the end of the tape, there's a milk carton with my picture on [it] that says, 'Have you seen this guy? He's been missing in action,'" he says.

Gentry looked at U'Ren and Kerr and shook his head.

"Everybody was laughing their ass off," Gentry says. "I'm like, 'OK, Y'all got me good. OK.'"

Gentry actually got off easy on this one. As embarrassing moments in the Warriors' film room go this season, this was pretty G-rated. Earlier in the season Kerr and U'Ren, his 28-year-old assistant and partner in crime, dug up old photos of Gentry and spliced them into a film session.

"I had an Afro and a mustache," Gentry says. "I think I looked like a porn star or something. I don't know what I was thinking with that look. It was 1970, OK."

Over the course of the season, everyone on the team has been roasted like this. Players, coaches, even the team's strength and conditioning coaches -- who made a rap video for their senior thesis that, um, didn't age well.

"Anything that you do in a game that is slightly embarrassing or lives on the Internet, we will show it to the guys and find humor in it," Warriors player development coach Jarron Collins said. "It just speaks to Steve's sense of humor and the levity he wants to create around here. A lot of Steve's humor is self-deprecating and it filters throughout the entire team to where we all are forced to make fun of ourselves."

Collins was among the first to take his turn under the microscope. The 7-foot-1 center played for Gentry and Kerr in Phoenix toward the end of his career, so they each had good seats for what's known on YouTube as "Jarron Collins 'Slow' break" during a game against the Houston Rockets in the 2009-10 season.

"Jarron had a one-man fast break in Phoenix where he stole the ball and it took him like 17 seconds to get down the floor," says Kerr, who was the Suns' GM at the time. "We had some fun with that one."

Collins pulls out his laptop and shows me the play. "See, I'm like a cat," Collins says as the video shows him stealing the ball from Luis Scola near midcourt. "And yes, that is a dunk. Yeah, boom. Lightning. That counts as a dunk!"

Assistant coach Luke Walton has seen the video a dozen times already, but it's still funny.

"I think you're in better shape now, JC," Walton says, upon seeing Collins "dunk."

Collins rolls his head back and concedes, "Well, I do run more stairs now."

You get the sense they could go on like this for hours, trading one-liners and finding the lighter side of things. Somehow, in his first year as a head coach, Kerr has managed to construct a coaching staff and an environment that's just about the most fun anyone involved has ever been around. And yet when they need to be serious, they can flip the switch instantly.

"That won't work for every team. The Spurs aren't that way. I think we just have that type of group," forward Draymond Green says. "It teeters that line. We're always loose. The start of practice is a complete circus. Basketballs are flying everywhere. You have coach trying to kick it in from half court. You have Steph [Curry] throwing the ball full court, trying to make it in.

"Guys are getting hit in the head with the basketball. It's a complete circus. And then it's right down to business. It really is. Kerr's always telling us, 'Be loose, be gunslingers, but be disciplined.'"

It's a philosophy Kerr has culled from several different muses. Phil Jackson, who Kerr played for in Chicago, used to splice funny movie clips or cartoons into film sessions to break up the monotony of the 82-game regular season. They were random at times, but often functioned as a way of calling attention to important points and themes.

Kerr has also taken notes from Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whom he went to visit last summer.

"The reason I went up there is because I want my team to play like the Seahawks," Kerr says. "They're fast and loose and disciplined all at once. I wanted to know how you achieve that."

One thing he noticed is that Carroll turned everything into a competition. So you don't just swap basketballs for footballs and tell the guys to mess around, you turn it into a passing competition. You don't just cancel practice and go bowling, you turn it into a tournament as the Warriors did before a February game in Minnesota.

"Repetition of anything is how you get better at things," Walton explains. "So if you're constantly competing, that's when guys elevate their level.

"That's what I think has made our record (67-15) so great this year. Even when we're playing bad, at some point that repetition kicks in and they start competing and taking it to another gear."

Of course, sometimes it really is just about having fun.

As the coaching staff broke down tape of Game 2 of the Warriors' first-round playoff series against the Pelicans, they noticed Green flop onto the ground following a tough pick by New Orleans center Omer Asik.

It was hilarious in real time, but even funnier in slow motion as Green flutters around on the ground like a fish that just washed up on shore.

"It was just a horrible acting job," says assistant coach Bruce Fraser. "We were like, 'We need to comment on that in a funny way.' So Luke, in an unselfish way, says, 'Well, I don't really want to do this to myself, but I actually had an acting role that would be funny to use.'"

And by acting role, he was referring to the time a publicist friend got him a small role in an episode of "The Young and the Restless."

"I told them to use it if they couldn't find anything else," Walton says. "I don't think they looked very hard."

This was too good to be true.

"Our guys just murdered him on that one," Gentry says. "He's got his hair all permed up. It was the worst acting job of all time."

Walton took it in stride. He may be a first-year assistant coach, but he's carried himself like a coach throughout his playing career so the transition hasn't been very difficult.

"He's made it an easy transition. You can't really learn that trait. You just have to have it within you," says Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, who played with Walton at the University of Arizona. "Honestly, I don't think he knows this. But I always looked up to him in college. I learned more from him than probably anyone in my career. Just learning how to play basketball, how to pass, how to be a high-IQ student of the game."

So when Walton showed the team the video of himself in that "the Young and the Restless" episode, he wasn't worried about his credibility. Just the length of time it was going to take to live that one down.

"As long as there's a connection between the players and the coach that's good, then I think any team would appreciate this kind of environment," Walton says. "Steve told us that too, when he took the job.

"He said, 'I want all of you guys to be you. Players can see through when you're trying to be someone you're not.'"

So in a blink, Walton's personality goes from laid-back surfer kid from San Diego to intense, two-time NBA champion forward with the Los Angeles Lakers. Collins goes from sharp Stanford intellectual to goofy, self-deprecating former journeyman NBA center. Gentry, 60, goes from low-key, good-natured basketball lifer from Shelby, North Carolina, to offensive-minded savant.

"If you talk to him, he's casual, he's funny. He tells a lot of long stories," Fraser says of Gentry. "You can be baited into thinking he's the fun older guy who has just hung on. But the reality is, he's a wizard. He's sharp. You could say that about Steve, too. If you look at Steve in his khakis and his bad grey T-shirt, you'd wonder if he knows what he's doing.

"But Alvin is a wizard of taking advantage of defenses and matchups and he's able to come up with it like that," he says, snapping his fingers, "and several different versions of it."

Says Collins: "I said this after I played for Alvin in Phoenix. He can draw up a play to get a corpse a wide-open shot. He's just really good with X's and O's. I don't know whether you want the corpse shooting it, but he can get him open."

Of course none of this funny stuff works unless Kerr puts himself out there, too. You can't go around picking out everyone else's lowlights without laughing at your own.

The point is to let everyone know it's OK to do stupid stuff sometimes. To get over yourself and out of your head.

And by any objective measure, the 1980s rap video Kerr and Fraser did in college at the University of Arizona was incredibly stupid.

"Oh we thought we were cool," Kerr says. "But we were just awful."

The verses are just ...

I mean ...

[Sean] Elliott here, it's time to play ...

They want me in the N-B-A.

When [Tom] Tolbert plays, he plays to win

I'll put it up, I'll put it in

Give Kerr the ball, give Kerr a hand

I'll put it up from 3-point la-and.

"It's just so bad," Green says. "I can't believe they did that."

Turns out the video was the brainchild of their teammate, and future six-time Grammy-winning producer, Harvey Mason Jr.

"He was like, 'Hey guys, I got this cool thing. Meet me at the radio station,'" Fraser says. "The crazy thing about it. There's like three radio personalities who work at the station. We started doing the video and we were like, 'Why are these people in it?' But I guess Harvey struck a deal so they had to be in it or something. Harvey always had these side things going."

Thirty years later and Fraser's still sort of at a loss for words to explain why they all went along with Mason's video. They just did it.

"It was just a team thing. Our team was tight," Fraser said. "No one was worried about looking bad at the time. We just did something that was fun."

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