By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – The back pain that threatens to keep Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr out for the rest of the NBA playoffs is a setback for the team, but colleagues on Thursday said they were more concerned about seeing someone they admire suffer so much.
News that the pain and headaches that kept the 51-year-old coach away from the team for the first 43 games last season had returned earlier this month shocked fans in the Bay Area, where Kerr is a beloved figure.
It is even more difficult for those inside the organization, who have developed a deep bond with the coach who is as well known for his ability to connect with players as he is for his high basketball IQ.
“It’s hard to see a friend go through it,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said in an interview with CBS Sports Radio’s Jim Rome on Thursday.
“When you look at a health issue – with a friend, family member, your own – everything else stops,” he said.
“It leaves you feeling a little helpless.”
The deeply competitive Kerr initially hurt his back during the 2015 NBA championship series.
Kerr did not immediately miss any time and went on to lead the Warriors to their first NBA title in 40 years.
But two back surgeries followed during the off season, as did bouts of unbearable pain.
Myers said it might be difficult for people to realize that even someone as successful as Kerr, who won five championships as a player and has worked as a general manager and television broadcaster, is not immune to life’s struggles.
Kerr has certainly known adversity.
His father Malcolm was assassinated by Islamic militants in 1984 while he was serving as president of the American University of Beirut, when Kerr was just an 18-year-old college freshman.
Myers said Kerr’s resiliency is one reason the Warriors have been able to return to the playoffs after a humiliating loss in the NBA Finals last year, when the team became the first in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven series.
“Sometimes people don’t recover. We’re moving on,” Myers said.
Stepping into Kerr’s place is assistant coach Mike Brown.
“It’s tough. I look at him as a friend first and a guy I work for second,” Brown told 95.7 The Game radio show.
“To see him or anyone you care about go through anything that’s not good is a tough situation to deal with.”
Myers insisted the back issues were “fixable.”
“Basketball is what provides him with the most happiness,” Myers said.
“I’m very, very confident he’ll be back coaching, but I can’t say when,” he said.
“And when he does, I think he’ll coach for a long, long time.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in San Francisco; Editing by Larry Fine)