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‘It’s a long haul’: Steve Kerr talks about what it takes to overcome losing and become a winner

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Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr communicates to Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz in San Francisco, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The Jazz won 122-108.

John Hefti, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — When you are used to being successful, finding yourself in a position where being able to succeed regularly will be extremely difficult can be hard to take. But people who are used to winning often rely on their resiliency and mental toughness to help them through periods of hardship knowing that one day, things will eventually change for the better.

For the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the National Basketball Association having reached the NBA Finals each year and winning the league title three times. During that exceptional run, Steve Kerr has been the head coach helping to lead the franchise into one of the greatest periods of prosperity in league history — something he was no stranger to as a player.

During his 15-year career as a pro, Kerr became accustomed to winning — playing on five championship teams in Chicago (3) and San Antonio (2). In fact, he only played on one team that failed to achieve a winning record. It was during that time that he learned what consistent success looked and felt like and what was required to achieve it year after year at the highest level.

“It’s a long haul. Our job as a (coaching) staff and the (players who are) leaders of our team — their job is to keep everybody spirits up and keep the ship moving forward.” — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr

Because of numerous injuries that have depleted his former championship squad as well as losing stars like Kevin Durant to free agency and other key members of the team leaving due to differing circumstances, the Warriors find themselves in a rebuilding mode that will take time to develop into a consistent winner when injured stars like guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are able to return. On a recent trip to play the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Kerr discussed the challenges of fielding a young, unproven team knowing they are going to fail far more often than they will succeed, particularly this season.

Prior to arriving in Utah, Golden State had suffered a demoralizing 48-point road loss to the Dallas Mavericks in their previous ballgame. He said one of the keys to success in the NBA is learning how to bounce back after a hard loss.

“We’re in the process of developing young guys. And so part of development is the emotional and mental and physical response to a blowout loss,” Kerr explained. “What are your habits? Are your habits, ‘All right, we’re going to accept this and we’re just going to keep taking it on the chin or are you going to fight?’”

“So, tonight’s a big game for us in terms of our young players, and how they respond to what was a very embarrassing night in Dallas,” he said.

Kerr noted that having to rebuild after a successful run is typical for NBA teams, and the same is true in most any profession. Truly successful people learn how to make the changes necessary to regain their former attainment, which is something he has to teach his young squad.

“I don’t think anybody expected us to just be a championship team forever. It doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way,” he said. “We’ve certainly had our fair share of good fortune over the years. Life smacks you in the face sometimes. So you have to be prepared for that and accept it and respond to it.”

“Then you focus on that day, what can you do to get better and that’s what we’re locked in on,” Kerr said. “We’ve got some really good young players who are working hard. They’re talented, but they’re learning and we’ve got to continue to help them learn and grow.”

Recalling his playing days and the one season as a member of the 1990-91 Cleveland Cavaliers in which the team suffered through a losing campaign after All-Star guard Mark Price suffered a season-ending knee injury, Kerr said part of the difficulty was staying mentally upbeat in the face of so much adversity.

“What I remember as the real challenge was getting through the season and trying to maintain a sense of hope. Eighty-two games is a long grind, whether you’re winning or losing, (but) especially if you’re losing,” Kerr said. “And (today) we’re 3-13. It stinks, walking into the locker room after a loss. So it’s tough now and it’s going to be even tougher if we’re still losing a month from now (or) two months from now.”

“It’s a long haul. Our job as a (coaching) staff and the (players who are) leaders of our team — their job is to keep everybody spirits up and keep the ship moving forward.”