Before Steve Kerr started winning NBA Championships, he won a gold medal in the 1986 FIBA World Championship as a member of Team USA. Ask the guard of the festivities on that fateful day, and he probably wouldn’t recall a thing. That’s because Kerr was in a daze during one of the greatest milestones of his career.
Kerr chipped in 14 points in USA’s semifinal win over Brazil. On one possession, Kerr was caught in a dilemma of whether to pass the ball or shoot. At the very last moment, he decided to shoot it. It seems trivial, but Kerr failed to shift his weight properly. This caused his knee to blow out, ending his tournament journey. In a bittersweet moment, he watched Team USA snag the gold against the Soviet Union from his hospital suite.
“But as soon as the game ended and the buzzer sounded and I saw them all celebrating, it was really tough to watch,” he said, per the Los Angeles Times.
Kerr’s teammates knew of his situation. A few days later, Kerr’s teammates gave him his gold medal and the game ball. Some reporters joined the mini-celebration in Kerr’s suite. But the guard himself had a hazy memory of that day.
“I was on morphine at the time, so I think I was out of it,” he said. “But it was a nice little ceremony. It’s not like I’m too busy to let people in. I’m absolutely bored.”
Kerr’s knee underwent an initial examination by an American physician in Spain, where the tournament was held. According to him, the damage was so bad that Kerr's career was in jeopardy. He was sent home to Tuscon, where Kerr's surgeon revealed that the guard had a chance to play basketball once again.
Two years after blowing his knee, Kerr debuted in the NBA, donning the Phoenix Suns jersey. He played three and a half seasons in Cleveland and one-half in Orlando. Come the 1993-94 NBA season, he signed with the Chicago Bulls. The rest, as they say, is history.
Kerr is known to be one of the most successful individuals in the NBA today, having won titles as a player and a coach. The man made winning hardware look so easy. It was as if Lady Luck was always on his side and led him to two guys named Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry.
But Kerr’s pre-NBA basketball career shows that he, too, experienced some trials and tribulations. Seeing your teammates celebrate without you is painful enough. Hearing the doctor say you’ll likely never play again is crushing. But he didn't give up and has a lot of jewelry to show for it.