There are many great players in the NBA. However, excelling on the court doesn’t necessarily mean someone will make a good coach. Many strong players floundered once they got a shot at leading a team. That wasn’t true of Steve Kerr.
Steve Kerr has 9 rings in total, 5 of them are as a player (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003), and the rest 4 as a coach (2015, 2017, 2018, 2022).
This article analyzes the three shooter’s extremely successful career by studying the rings he won both as a player and as a coach. That will show, not just how he thrived in two different systems, but how much championships matter across the NBA.
The Right Role
In the NBA, rings are the ultimate goal. They help cement a player’s legacy and affirm the time they spent grinding on and off the court. Not winning one doesn’t invalidate a great career, but it does detract from their other achievements.
Kerr is not someone who many people think of as one of the ten or fifteen best players ever. During his time in the league he was a solid role player, but his various championships were more due to circumstance than his individual skill.
He was a great three shooter with an excellent court presence, but he never led his team or was the star player. Still, he thrived inside different systems and certainly played a role in netting multiple titles.
Five Great Years
When it was all said and done, Kerr won five rings as a player in the NBA. He took home his first three with the Michael Jordan-led Bulls in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Though Jordan was the star, Kerr hit the title-winning shot in game six of the 1997 Finals.
After that impressive run, Jordan retired and the Bulls had to pivot. As part of that reconstruction, they traded Kerr over to the San Antonio Spurs before the 1999 season.
While many people thought that might be the end of him, he continued to show up. Playing with one of the best frontcourts in NBA history, Kerr took home his fourth ring in 1999.
That run didn’t just push him into a special category for ring number, it also made him the first non-Celtics player in NBA history to win four straight rings. However, his streak ended the following year and he eventually went to the Portland Trailblazers.
He did alright in Portland, but never found his rhythm. Then, in 2003, the organization sent him back to San Antonio for what would be his final season. Spurred by his impending retirement, he played in 75 games and helped the Spurs get another title.
It was their second in four years and Kerr’s fifth as a player. That ring is one of the most important because, though many athletes earned four, only 26 ever have earned five or more.
Back on the Bench
Kerr had an impressive (if short-lived) run in the NBA. However, what makes him special and why he’s still in the public eye, is his success as a coach. Very few athletes have what it takes to both play and lead, but Kerr did both at an extremely high level.
After spending a decade broadcasting and working as an executive, Kerr took over as head coach for the Golden State Warriors in 2014. That was another area where he thrived, leading a team with a lot of strong pieces back to the top of the NBA world.
At the Top, Again
Even great players who become great coaches (like Larry Bird and Jason Kidd) don’t always win championships. They might have success, but it takes a special mix with a special eye for talent to be able to win rings at two different levels.
The Warriors were already good when Kerr took over, but he took them to the next level. Understanding the importance of threes, stretching the floor, and quick screens, he developed a smaller “death lineup” that allowed stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to thrive.
The results were immediate. He got his sixth ring (this time as a coach) in 2015. Then, after Kevin Durant joined the squad, they would go on to win two more rings in 2017 and 2018. They went on a brief hiatus, and then came back with a vengeance in 2022 for another title.
The most recent win gives Kerr a staggering nine total rings. He won five on the court and four by calling the shots from the bench.
Steve Kerr is one of the most unique NBA players of all time. He took home plenty of titles as part of the Bulls and Spurs, and then shifted into one of the most successful coaches of all time. That’s a rare mix, and one we might not see again for a long time.