Arizona Athletics

Third time the charm for Arizona stars


Somewhere Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke and president Robert C. Robbins are smiling.

They should be beaming over the fact former Wildcats Steve Kerr, Bruce Fraser and Andre Iguodala and school alum Bob Baffert captured the world’s attention in the last two days by proving that great things come in threes.

Heck, even former Arizona tight end and New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski is happy. A racehorse named in his honor finished second in today’s Belmont Stakes, behind Triple Crown winner Justify, which is trained by Baffert.

Baffert became the second trainer in history to win two Triple Crowns with Justify winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He trained American Pharoah to a Triple Crown in 2015.

Friday night, Kerr coached the Golden State Warriors to their third NBA championship in the last four years, leading his team to a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. Fraser is one of Kerr’s closest friends and a Warriors assistant since Kerr was hired in 2014.

Iguodala, the Finals MVP in 2016, also won his third title with the Warriors. He is now tied for Arizona’s second-most NBA titles as a player with Jud Buechler. Buechler won three championships with the Chicago Bulls with Kerr, who leads all Wildcats with five NBA titles as a player (he also won two with San Antonio).

The events that took place the last two days continue the prominence of the Arizona basketball program and the school’s Race Track Industry Program.

Another Arizona alum of the Race Track Industry Program, Todd Pletcher, had two horses in the Belmont Stakes — Noble Indy and Vino Rosso. Baffert also trained Belmont participant Restoring Hope, which finished eighth. Vino Rosso finished fourth and Noble Indy 10th.

Baffert’s Justify is the 13th horse to capture the Triple Crown.

Kerr also made history by becoming only the sixth NBA coach to win at least three titles, which means his spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame is a foregone conclusion.

Phil Jackson has the most with 11, followed by Red Auerbach with nine and John Kundla, Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich each with five.

Kerr also owns the best playoff winning percentage (.759) of coaches who have coached at least 80 playoff games. His playoff coaching record is 63-20. His overall coaching record is 265-63, an astounding winning percentage of .808.

Jackson won 70.4 percent of his games in 20 seasons as a head coach. Kerr will enter his fifth season as a head coach in 2018-19.

Iguodala will be under contract with the Warriors for at least two more years after re-signing with the team last July. He signed a three-year, $48 million contract.

He is only one of 126 players to play at least 1,000 regular-season games. Three of them are also former Arizona players — Jason Terry (1,410 games played), Richard Jefferson (1,181) and Mike Bibby (1,001).

While Kerr, and perhaps Iguodala, is headed to the Hall of Fame — Kerr has argued that Iguodala deserves consideration — Baffert is already a Hall of Famer himself.

Baffert was inducted into Lone Star Park’s Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2009, he was nominated and inducted to the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. Baffert was elected alongside one of the best fillies he trained, Silverbulletday. Point Given was nominated in 2009, but elected and inducted in 2010.

No doubt, American Pharoah and Justify will join Baffert in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame someday soon. The wait is five years after their last race.


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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