Though he’s primarily remembered for his role with the championship Chicago Bulls, Steve Kerr was influential for the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.
Every step of the way, point guard Steve Kerr has been a winner. He had a successful college career at the University of Arizona before winning five championships in professional career—three as a member of the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. Now that he’s on to his coaching career, he’s part of another dynasty with the Golden State Warriors, empowering future Hall of Famer Stephen Curry to become the best version of himself.
Few moments embody the winning spirit that Kerr brings to the table like Game Six of the 2003 Western Conference Finals. This would be the last season of Kerr’s playing career and whether he knew it or not, he had to make this one count. On May 29, 2003, San Antonio played host to the Dallas Mavericks in a potential series-clinching face-off.
Unfortunately, franchise point guard Tony Parker was ailed by a punishing stomach bug that he got from a bad batch of room service creme brulee the night prior. Parker played 13 low-energy minutes, fighting through the competition and missing all five of his shot attempts. San Antonio found itself trailing by just as many points, 13, late in the fourth quarter.
Levied by a strong performance from Stephen Jackson, who finished with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting including five triples on seven attempts. Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili had been off all night, combining to shoot 37.9 percent from the floor with eight turnovers.
It’d take a miracle for San Antonio to pull out the win. With their backs against the wall, head coach Gregg Popovich called upon the help of an unlikely hero: 37-year-old Kerr.
As San Antonio picked up its pace, beginning to push back against its deficit against the punishing Mavs, Kerr jumped into the game and immediately asserted his presence.
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With the game tied at 71 apiece, Dallas fought and clawed to regain control of the game. A spry, young Steve Nash threw up a fadeaway jumper, missing it off the side of the rim. Forward Raef LaFrentz, who played extended minutes in place of Dirk Nowitzki, tipped the ball up and out of bounds before Kerr threw his body on the line, diving and saving the ball to Jackson. He brushed himself off, brought the ball up the court and caught a clean pass from Duncan for a spot-up triple at the top of the key to finally give the Spurs a lead.
Kerr went 4-for-4 in that fourth quarter, bringing that championship pedigree to the forefront and pushing the Spurs into the Finals against the New Jersey Nets. He earned the game ball for his outstanding efforts on both sides of the floor, managing to get the ball to Duncan repeatedly despite double-teams and furious defenders.
The Spurs went on to win their second chip that year, giving Kerr his fifth and final championship as a player. ESPN and Netflix’s The Last Dance is going to give the NBA world a new appreciation for Kerr, but some of his most important career moments came near the end in the silver and black.
Without his heroics, the Spurs might not have made it to the ’01 Finals, changing their trajectory for many years to come.