The bromance of Kerr and Klopp
After admiring Jürgen Klopp from afar for years, Golden State's Steve Kerr got his chance to enter Liverpool's inner sanctum and study how his footballing counterpart operates
In just 10 days, some 5,000 miles away from home, Steve Kerr will coach the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game against Washington.
It's an exhibition game in Tokyo, true, but the fast-approaching return to competition for the reigning champions brings a jarring end to a whirlwind summer for Kerr. His offseason included attending daughter Madeleine's wedding in the south of France, officiating the wedding of longtime Warriors staffer Nick U'Ren in Montana, visiting Egypt for the first time since 1985 and getting the chance, at last, to huddle with Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and personally thank Mohamed Salah for inspiring him to become a Liverpool fan.
After his daughter's nuptials and just before joining four fellow NBA head coaches (Portland's Chauncey Billups, Minnesota's Chris Finch, New Orleans' Willie Green and Washington's Wes Unseld Jr.) at the NBA's recent Basketball Without Borders camp in Cairo, Kerr and wife Margot squeezed in a quick jaunt from London to the North West of England to spend a day on Merseyside and finally meet Klopp and Salah.
"This was the first time I'd ever met [Klopp] and conversed with him," Kerr told me in a phone interview earlier this month. "I was just a fan from afar, but I've always loved his coaching style and the joy that he shows. It's clear that he has a strong connection with his players, but this was different. Rather than just watching them from the States and cheering for them, to actually watch practice, we really made a great connection."
Given his close friendship with Brooklyn Nets coach (and avowed soccer fanatic) Steve Nash, as well as his own robust sports curiosity, it was only a matter of time before Kerr, 56, was seduced by The Beautiful Game. He has told the story many times by now about how he was drawn to Liverpool fandom by the Egyptian star Salah, given Kerr's own ties to the country after spending three years as a student in his teens in Cairo while his father Malcolm was a visiting professor at the American University there.
"I was watching him play for his national team — and then I read this great story about the work he does in his hometown in Egypt and a strong stand he made for his national team teammates," Kerr said of Salah. "I was just so impressed with him. At the time I was really starting to watch the Premier League, but I didn't have a team. So I decided I'm going to become a Liverpool fan — that's my team — because I love Salah.
"Good timing, too, because they got really good really fast."
Salah's arrival in June 2017 and his irrepressible wing play helped Liverpool win the Champions League in May 2019 and then, one year later, its first league title since 1989-90 — going back before England's top division had been rebranded as the Premier League starting in 1992-93.
Yet there's no diminishing the transformative nature of Klopp's managerial touch. I still remember the first time I closely watched him coaching Borussia Dortmund in a Champions League game against Manchester City in December 2012. Klopp unexpectedly started Julian Schieber ahead of Robert Lewandowski, sent Lewandowski on as a substitute not long after Schieber scored the game's only goal and got a huge hug from Schieber after giving him the hook.
I just sat there thinking: What sort of manager gets a thank-you embrace like that for taking off a striker who did his job and scored?
The same qualities have hooked Kerr, who happily proceeded from the post-practice chat with Liverpool stars Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk pictured above to lunch with Klopp and Liverpool sporting director Julian Ward.
"We share a similar view of what coaching is about," Kerr said. "He's just a really impressive guy who understands it's about the players. It's about putting them in a really good position and mindset, creating a good culture and then letting them do their thing and play with freedom. I feel a real connection in terms of the way we see coaching and sports in general."
Klopp later told Liverpool's club website how relieved he was to work in soccer rather than basketball when "Kerr said he has to do press every day!" Yet he couldn't hide his envy when the subject switched to the length of the NBA offseason.
Even the Warriors — even after winning their fourth NBA crown in eight seasons — will have enjoyed three full months away from each other dating to the team's championship parade on June 20 before reconvening this week. Top-level soccer teams get only a month and change off between the end of the domestic and Champions League seasons and the standard early July summons back to training for the new season.
"The importance and difficulty in pacing your team over a long season was a big topic," Kerr said. "Compared to those guys, our summers off are incredible. They don't get nearly enough time."
Another prime subject, Kerr said, was "the way to approach tough spells — through total honesty with the team, communication and the constant themes of joy and competition.”
"Their practice that day was a beautiful combination of all that," Kerr said.
An immediate jolt back to business looms for Kerr on Thursday, when he and Warriors GM Bob Myers — to Klopp's presumed dismay — are scheduled to host separate media sessions before Golden State's opening practice.
As moved as he was by the brief exposure to Liverpool's universe, Kerr said he will stifle the urge to start referring to Myers as the Warriors' sporting director ... although he is undeniably fond of the way Klopp is addressed.
"Manager is a much more apt title than head coach," Kerr said, "because so much of what we do is manage."
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My own final trip of a travel-heavy summer took me the farthest distance: Some 7,000 miles away from home to Tel Aviv.
It's my co-favorite city in the world alongside Manchester … with the tie broken only if I am in one or the other.
The trip is dribbling to an end, so I'm still sorting through a mess of photos. In the interim I've decided to focus here mostly on sporting matters with these snaps after I unexpectedly found myself at a Champions League match last week before the Davis Cup tie that I actually flew in to see.
Juancho Hernangómez, better known to American fans now as Bo Cruz after his acting debut in Adam Sandler's Hustle, made six 3-pointers in the second quarter to push Spain into an early 19-point lead in Sunday's EuroBasket title game against France. Hernangómez, as noted by my pal Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, sank just 12 3s in his first eight games in the tournament.
Spain has now won four of the past six EuroBasket tournaments — all under its Italian-born coach Sergio Scariolo. The other winners in that span: France in 2013 and Slovenia in 2017. Debate persists, though, about the contributions of Lorenzo Brown to Spain's title run given that Brown had never spent any time in the country before joining Spain's national team.
Without a single NBA player on its roster, Poland upset defending EuroBasket champions Slovenia in the quarterfinals to clinch its first semifinal berth in the Euros since 1971. It followed Italy's victory over Nikola Jokić-led Serbia in the Round of 16 and host Germany's defeat of Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Greece in an earlier quarterfinal.
Only three Polish-born players have appeared in an NBA regular-season game: Cezary Trybański, Maciej Lampe and, of course, Marcin Gortat. San Antonio Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan, drafted No. 9 overall, has represented Poland internationally but did not play in the EuroBasket tournament in advance of his first NBA season.
An under-the-radar quirk from the recent Donovan Mitchell-to-Cleveland blockbuster trade: The Cavaliers announced the swap as official on Sept. 4 and Utah announced it as official on Sept. 8 ... four days later. The unusual discrepancy, I'm told, stems from the Jazz wanting to ensure that every physical involving the three players they received from Cleveland (Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and the recently drafted Ochai Agbaji) was complete before making their own announcement. On Sept. 4, Utah did post a thank you message to Mitchell without formally announcing that the trade was complete.
Robert Sarver's $10 million fine attached to the one-year suspension meted out last week to the Phoenix Suns' owner was the maximum allowable financial penalty according to NBA rules. The maximum was raised in the NBA's bylaws by Board of Governors vote from $2.5 million — Donald Sterling's penalty when the former LA Clippers owner received a lifetime ban by NBA commissioner Adam Silver in 2014 — to $10 million in 2019.
The Sarver-led Suns are one of five NBA teams that also own WNBA franchises along with Brooklyn, Indiana, Minnesota and Washington.
Correction on last Tuesday's item on Great Britain's basketball team: I was informed by longtime British basketball writer Mark Woods, who was at the recent game in Milan on the same day that Queen Elizabeth II died at age 96, that the GB basketball team became the first national team to sing "God Save The King" in 70 years. Anthem references to the Queen, for the first time since 1952, were amended immediately after King Charles III's ascent to the throne in the wake of his mother's death. I'm told players were actually briefed before that Sept. 8 loss to host Italy that the anthem lyrics would change right away.