by Paul Cortes
Assistant Varsity Boys Coach, International High School
Youth Basketball Coach, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department
AAU Coach, Bay City Basketball
People have come up with numerous narratives for why Kevin Durant, in one of the biggest free agent announcements in NBA history, chose to join the Golden State Warriors. I’m not going to pretend to know any better than anyone else what Kevin Durant’s motivations are. However, a recent press conference introducing former Golden State assistant Luke Walton as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers offers a glimpse into what makes Golden State so special—the environment that Steve Kerr has helmed as head coach. Walton said:
“We’re going to put our stamp on the culture that we want, and it’s going to be joy. Our players are going to like coming into practice every day… Basketball is meant to be a game of joy, and if you can provide that environment and make guys want to come in and bust their tail every day in practice and work harder because they’re enjoying it, then they look forward to coming into the gym every day.”
This concept of joy is not something that is singular to Luke Walton, nor is it an idea he had been holding close to his vest while being on a Warriors’ assistant coach. It is something that Kerr has crafted from the moment he came aboard to Golden State, when his hiring was questioned because of his lack of coaching experience and what was arguably a mediocre stint as GM of the Phoenix Suns. One would think that a coach, eager to make his mark and prove the naysayers wrong, would come in with a chip on his shoulder looking to set a serious tone. That was hardly the case, as this profile of the typical warriors practice demonstrates:
The players form four lines to jog and get loose, which is normal enough, but then things get weird.
They warm up by launching a series of court-length shots — heaves that graze light fixtures and ricochet off shot clocks, total prayers that occasionally reach the rim but more often than not leave members of the coaching staff scrambling for safety.
Yes, the Warriors typically turn the first five to 10 minutes of every practice into something that looks more like middle-school recess.
With my 6th grade team last season, i implemented this into our practice. Each kid had a basketball. Going down one way, they’d dribble to halfcourt with the right hand, while performing some of dynamic movement like high knees. When they got to halfcourt, they’d let the halfcourt shots go. On the way back they’d do the same movement while dribbling with the left hand, once again culminating with a shot at halfcourt. Many people might witness something like this and dismiss it as a waste of time, but the kids loved it. Parents told me that their sons begged them not to let them be late to practice because they didn’t want to miss the halfcourt shots. The energy to start every practice was at an all-time high. Was it really a waste of time?
On social media, one of my favorite coaches to follow is Coach Mel. I met Mel at an invitational basketball camp, where we both served on staff as coaches. While talking to Coach Mel about his 11u AAU team, one thing that was apparent to me was how much he cared about his kids, how much he enjoyed coaching them and how much joy he instilled in their playing the game. This is a video Mel posted of his team recently on Instagram:
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One reason that I enjoy following Coach Mel is that it is obvious to me how much he enjoys coaching his kids and how much his players enjoy playing for him. When I see a video like this, it’s easy to see why. When I see the video of the Warriors singing I’m In Love With The Coco, it’s easy to see why they enjoy playing together. Yes, talent helps. Yes, the coach has to be competent and know what he’s doing. But when I look at the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, I see how much they enjoy playing for each other, and it’s also easy to see why a superstar would want to come on board. When I look at AAU’s Hawaii Heat, it’s also easy to see why any kid would want to join their team.
It would be presumptuous of me, a coach writing on a coaching website, to claim that the coach is the main reason why Kevin Durant chose to make the move he made. However, I think that we can look at this recent event and gleam some things as coaches, particularly when it comes to culture, environment, and practice design. I look at the joy that Steve Kerr has instilled in an NBA locker room, and the joy that Coach Mel has instilled in a 5th Grade AAU team, and see places and teams that any person would love to be a part of.