Tuesday’s Eye on the Ball radio show on KVOI (1030-AM) included the most identifiable former Arizona athlete in history — Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors head coach who helped lead the Wildcats to their first Final Four appearance in 1987-88.
The show is weekdays at 6 p.m. and can be listened to streamed live online.
One of the most interesting parts of the interview with co-hosts Steve Rivera of AllSportsTucson.com and Jay Gonzales was Kerr talking about keeping it a secret from Lute Olson that he played American Legion baseball with his high school buddies in the summers following his freshman and sophomore seasons at Arizona.
“I loved baseball,” said Kerr, who also played baseball in high school. “I never told Coach Olson, I just loved baseball. I just went and played. Back then, things just didn’t seem like a big deal. We all kind of played a lot of sports.
“There wasn’t any social media, nobody cared. You could get away with kind of anything you wanted. Part of my summers in college was going back and playing baseball.”
Kerr’s popularity, enhanced Sunday with his story told during the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan, is in contrast to when his basketball odyssey started in the fall of 1983 when he came to Tucson. Nobody knew about him. It was joked about during the Eye on the Ball show that Lute Olson’s late wife Bobbi questioned her husband’s eye for talent when Lute was impressed with what he saw the first time he witnessed Kerr play in Southern California.
About 37 years later, Kerr has not only led Arizona to the Final Four as the point guard with teammates such as Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook, Craig McMillan, Tom Tolbert and Kenny Lofton and the lovable Gumbies, he played for five NBA championship teams — three with Jordan — and has coached the Warriors to three titles.
The record-holder at Arizona and the NBA for 3-point shooting percentage in a season and career, Kerr went from a hollow recruiting experience out of Pacific Palisades (Calif.) High School to a certain place in the Basketball Hall of Fame in the future.
Gonzales tried to pin Kerr down on saying the 1987-88 team is the best in Arizona history because of its 35-3 record and first Final Four appearance in program history.
“I’m not going to answer that for obvious reasons,” Kerr said with a laugh. “I always will give the 1997 team the nod because they won it. You’ve got to go ahead and win it. The (NCAA) tournament, it’s incredibly powerful and it’s heartbreaking. They caught fire and they did it.
“I remember going to that game, that final game, in Indianapolis and sitting with Sean Elliott and we were so happy for Coach Olson and everybody involved with the program. That team, they were a 4-seed and nobody could have really predicted that they’d win but they did it. Coach has had other teams that were higher ranked along with the 1988 team.”
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Other topics discussed included his painful memory of shooting 2-of-12 from 3-point range in the Final Four loss against Oklahoma; his condolences to the family of former Arizona assistant Ken Burmeister, who passed away Monday after a battle with cancer; his fond reflections about living in Tucson, including marrying his wife Margot at the Newman Center on campus; and what turned out to be a blessing in disguise — his serious knee injury in the World Championships in 1986 — that forced him to miss the 1986-87 season but allowed him a fifth year for his fun experience at Arizona.
Kerr also talked about life in quarantine at his San Diego home during the COVID-19 pandemic, his difficult season with the Warriors this year with injuries to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and his background with the Bulls with former Wildcats Jud Buechler and the late Brian Williams (later known as Bison Dele).
You can listen to the interview here:
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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.