Remembering the great Final Fours in New Orleans

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Remembering the great Final Fours in New Orleans

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Two of the most replayed shots in NCAA tournament history. Two terrible mistakes that are played over and over. Freshmen redeeming the most painful loss in school history. That's what New Orleans has given college basketball fans in the first four Final Fours it has hosted. No. 5 starts Saturday, and as sure as there will be hot sauce in your jambalaya, you can expect New Orleans to add to its tradition of throwing a great party -- on and off the court. To start with the positives, a freshman from North Carolina named Michael Jordan made the first big jumper in 1982. Five years later a junior college transfer from Indiana named Keith Smart hit what turned out to be the game-winner from almost the same spot on the Superdome court. If you haven't seen either shot, just watch the commercials and teases for college basketball. Jordan, still known as Mike then but with his tongue sticking out just a bit, made his with jumper with 17 seconds to go to give the Tar Heels a 63-62 lead over Georgetown. When those 17 seconds ticked off, North Carolina coach Dean Smith had his first national championship. "I'm very blessed for what that shot did, and my name did change from Mike to Michael," Jordan recounted five years ago. "To sit back and think What if?' is a scary thought. There are a lot of other options. I could be pumping gas back in Wilmington, N.C." Smart's jumper with 5 seconds left gave Indiana a 74-73 win over Syracuse, which had a chance to expand its lead when Derrick Coleman missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 28 seconds to play and none of his teammates along the lane. The national championship was coach Bob Knight's third and last at Indiana, and the loss was a crushing one for Orange coach Jim Boeheim. "If it goes in, it's my shot," Smart, now the coach of the Sacramento Kings said then of his game-winner. "It's a pickup game shot." Jordan's shot was followed by one of the biggest mistakes ever seen in sports. Georgetown's Fred Brown had the ball inside the midcourt line, setting up the Hoyas' chance at a win in their first Final Four appearance ever and first in a three-year span with center Patrick Ewing. Inexplicably, Brown turned and flipped the ball to James Worthy of the Tar Heels who was fouled but missed both free throws. One of the lasting images of that NCAA tournament was Georgetown coach John Thompson hugging a disconsolate Brown after the game, telling him the Hoyas wouldn't have gotten to that point without him. Thompson will be in New Orleans this weekend, this time as a radio analyst. He's glad to be back in the Crescent City, even with that memory from 30 years ago. "I think the moment itself is difficult to deal with as is the case with everybody that got that far," Thompson said Thursday. "You lose, you feel bad, but you put it in perspective. New Orleans was the first city we played in a Final Four in. It was the first city we got to the final two. If you're competitive you're always disappointed when you lose. I don't hate New Orleans because we lost. Just the opposite, I love it because it was the first place we had a chance to play for the national championship." When the Final Four was held in New Orleans in 1993, North Carolina again made it to the championship game, this time facing the Fab Five of Michigan, who were playing for the title for a second straight season. The Tar Heels led 73-71 when Michigan got the ball with 20 seconds to go. Chris Webber, the best of the Wolverines' young team, took off like a runaway train and finally stopped in front of his own bench and called a timeout Michigan didn't have. Under the rules at the time, Michigan was charged with a technical foul and lost possession of the ball. Donald Williams made all four free throws, and North Carolina had another national title in New Orleans that was sealed by another major mistake by its opponent. In one of the most standup news conferences ever, Webber, still a teenager, faced every question thrown at him. "I just called a timeout and we didn't have one and it probably cost us the game," he said. "If I'd have known we didn't have any timeouts left, I wouldn't have called a timeout." Steve Fisher was the coach of the Wolverines then. Now the coach at San Diego State, he said Thursday that the NCAA tournament always stirs up memories of that night. "When they talk about plays in tournament history, that's one of the things they talk about," he said. "It's part of who we are, our legacy. ... I wish it hadn't happened, but it happened to us." Brown and Webber never got a chance to atone for their Superdome transgressions. Syracuse did. In 2003, the last time the Final Four was held here, the Orange were led by freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara in an 81-78 win over Kansas that gave Syracuse its first national championship. The game was sealed with seconds to play when sophomore Hakim Warrick, appropriately nicknamed "Helicopter," came from out of nowhere to block Michael Lee's potential game-tying shot from the corner. Boeheim, who had left New Orleans 16 years earlier with a tough loss, had the trophy in his hands and a net around his neck. "I was glad we got to go back in '03," Boeheim said Thursday. "We had an opportunity to win, to get to erase the memory. Honestly, it was better than if we won someplace else."

Steve Kerr's absence from Warriors' bench means two things for sure

Steve Kerr's absence from Warriors' bench means two things for sure

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 4 coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

Steve Kerr’s physical absence from the stage in the NBA Playoffs means a lot of things. It all depends on what you want from this development.

If you think the Warriors should win anyway, you will decide it will mean something but not a lot. If you think they should lose, it is a catastrophe, and when layered with Kevin Durant’s injury, it is a three-story catastrophe with a massive entry hall, a huge spiral staircase, a vast backyard with an Olympic pool and a shooting range.

But here are two things it means for sure.

One, nobody will be able to say they were lucky if they win, which for some reason still bothers people around here, as though luck is some sort of shame-inducing insult to be avoided.

And two, they will not accept your pity if they lose, least of all Kerr. Kerr is much better at showing anger than he is acknowledging pity, and you saw plenty of the former at his presser Sunday.

In an attempt to both granularize and overthink what has been pretty boilerplate playoff series so far, many folks have gone to Mike Brown, Kerr’s new Luke Walton, to declare an Achilles heel.

Except that (a) players determine success in the NBA, and only the very worst coaches impede talent from achieving its true level. Mike Brown is not among those coaches, and those who think he is are fools.

Except that (b) Kerr will be around for planning sessions, and there will be the rest of the coaching staff at Brown’s side so that continuity will not be an issue unless Brown’s voice is so alien that a group of veteran players who have won one title and nearly won a second will somehow lose their way.

The danger here is that we might be minimizing his absence, when in fact we don’t have the slightest idea how it will affect the Warriors. Even with the 43 games Walton coached in Kerr’s absence after this first back reaction, when people feared the team would fall off the earth, the Warriors played more than half those games against non-playoff teams, while playoff games are almost by necessity are high-leverage situations piled atop each other in a gigantic heap.

It’s not comparing cats and dogs, but it is comparing terriers and rottweilers. In short, this could be a lot tougher than we think it is. We have no idea, because there is no real metric for this, only a lot of half-educated guesswork.

You know, what we do best.

Even Five-Thirty-Eight.com, The Place Where Twos And Fours Go To Find Love, took the Warriors’ two wins last week, factored in Kerr’s absence and decided that the Warriors are now 67 percent favorites to win the title, up from 63 percent.

But if the Warriors cannot navigate the postseason without Kerr, then they’ll have failed, pure and simple. Context is all well and good, and we believe in context with all our might, but one of the contexts of this Warrior team is that no excuses will be accepted. It is the price they pay for being a 2-to-1 favorite from the second they signed Durant. After all, life is as windy as it is lonely at the top.

Kerr will return when he can, and it is hoped that he won’t do it until he knows he can, rather than thinks he can or hopes he can. But as it affects the Warriors . . . well, the nation has spoken.

No alibis. No luck. Until there is new evidence, they do, or they do not. Period.

This is cruel: Steve Kerr imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body

This is cruel: Steve Kerr imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body

Programming note: Warriors-Blazers Game 4 coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm with Warriors Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

PORTLAND -- Steve Kerr can’t golf. His body won’t allow it, hasn’t in two years. He has spent most of his life being able to golf, enjoying it immensely, and not being able to do so now saddens him deeply.

He can’t play basketball, either. Can’t even shoot free throws, not comfortably, and he spent half of his adult life playing the game at the highest levels.

Kerr, 51, can’t enjoy even the simplest things in life. Not now. So coaching an NBA team, the job he loves, a vocation that fulfills his lifelong need to compete, is out of the question.

Coaching the Warriors in the playoffs, in pursuit of a championship, is put on hold all because 21 months ago he made a reasonable, rational medical decision he may regret for the rest of his life.

Kerr opted for back surgery.

The after-effects have been devastating. He is imprisoned by misery that has engulfed his body. Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com earlier this season that he felt he had exhausted just about every possibility he is willing to trust, all in a quest for physical normalcy. He has researched hundreds of books in search of relief. He has talked to dozens of specialists. He has tried opioids and other medical treatments, herbal treatments, spiritual treatments and marijuana in a form he reluctantly revealed. And his reluctance, once revealed, was easily understood.

“I can tell you if you’re listening out there, if you have a back problem, stay away from surgery,” Kerr said Sunday in his first comments since Friday. “I can say that from the bottom of my heart. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Don’t let anybody get in there.”

The covers were pulled back on Kerr’s condition Saturday afternoon, when it was announced he would not coach Game 3 of the Warriors-Trail Blazers series. Now it was public, everybody knowing what those of us who work closely with him already knew. Much of what we’ve known, and some of what we’ve suspected, came tumbling into the open Sunday, when Kerr told the world that his condition, which had nagged at him ever since the summer of 2015, which he had suppressed with an admirable degree of success, finally had gotten best of him -- at least for now.

In private conversations this season with NBCSportsBayArea.com, Kerr has acknowledged his agony. He has admitted that he has never been more miserable and expressed his regret over having the first back surgery, which resulted in a spinal fluid leak, which led to a second surgery -- which has sent him plummeting down this path of torment.

Kerr lives with pain that most commonly might be associated with sinus headaches or, worse, migraines. Now that it has reached a level of utter despair, he no longer can even pretend to hide it. Gutting it out, a term often linked to competitive sport, was possible until this weekend.

“I was able to manage the pain and the discomfort over the last year and a half and, suddenly, things got a lot worse,” he said.

“I don’t know why. I’m trying to figure out why.”

This is cruel, and Steve Kerr knows cruelty. He has a great job, a great wife, a solid family -- yet none of this can completely eclipse the tragic death of his father. Dr. Malcolm Kerr was the president of the American University of Beirut when he was assassinated by a group of terrorists in January 1984.

Losing a father to senseless violence in a faraway place is not something a son gets over, not completely. Steve Kerr doesn’t often reference his father, but every time he does it is beneath a cloud of melancholy.

To have a great childhood, followed by unimaginable heartache while entering adulthood, leaves open the possibility for bitterness, maybe even the desire for vengeance. Not with Steve. He chose to continue living following the example set by his father, namely that the world is a place in need of healing.

It’s why anyone who knows Steve Kerr can only admire his principles and dedication. His innate goodness always shines through.

And now he has this great job, one in which he has more than earned his salary. He is a championship coach who always points to his players and his staff. He has a policy of openness that put everyone around him at ease.

And now this, such an unkind cut it seems profoundly unfair.

Kerr has so much that enriches him and can’t savor any of it. He wants nothing more than another Warriors championship and to be pain-free. At this stage, who could blame him if he yearned more for the latter than the former?