It’s not every day that you get to eavesdrop on Steve Kerr coaching some of the hottest players and biggest stars in the NBA. But that was exactly the scene on a recent afternoon when I interviewed Warriors General Manager Bob Myers in a conference room with a picture window overlooking the court at the dream team’s practice facility in Oakland.
At six-foot-six, with a lean and athletic build, Myers could easily be mistaken for a former NBA player. He just so happens to be a former UCLA Bruin. In 1997, after four years of playing college ball, Myers hung up his basketball shoes for good. The love of the game never left him: After a successful career as a sports agent in LA, Myers scored the position of a lifetime—putting together two championships and one of the best rosters, if not the best, in modern NBA history.
You’d think that all this success might go to his head, but Myers is unfailingly modest and a true team player. Our discussion covered the gamut, from what it takes to build a world-class franchise to the Warriors’ impending move to San Francisco to perhaps the toughest challenge: Trying to balance work and family life as a husband and father to two young daughters—with a third on the way!
Since you and I are both Bruins, my first question has to be about UCLA: You had no intention of playing college basketball your freshman year, but you ended up walking on to the team. How did that happen?
I applied to colleges thinking my basketball career was over. When I was touring UCLA—deciding if I wanted to go there—my dad and I walked into the athletic department and we ran into a guy named Steve Lavin [the assistant basketball coach]. My dad sparked up a conversation with him about Purdue, where my dad had gone to college and Steve had been an assistant coach.
At the end of the conversation, we asked Steve if he knew where the rowing department was because I wanted to check out the crew team. He said he didn’t know anything about rowing but said I should try to play basketball here. “I can’t,” I replied. “I mean, that’s a nice thing to say because I’m tall, but I can’t play basketball at UCLA.”
Upon reflection, I thought, You know, why not? I don’t think I’m gonna make it, but I’ll try out. I got to condition with the team for about a month. These guys were so much better than I was. We had a tryout at the Wooden Center, about 100 guys or something, and halfway through, the head coach, Jim Harrick, called me over and said, “Congratulations.” I couldn’t believe it.
And you guys won the NCAA championship in 1995.
My sophomore year. We got to meet President Clinton and we had a little Disneyland parade and all the stuff.
By the way, like you, I loved going to college at UCLA. I stayed in the area for 18 years. But I did marry a [USC] Trojan. [Janet gasps] I know, I just had to put that out there.
You grew up in Alamo and have been a lifelong Warriors fan. Does that sometimes make it more difficult to do your job? Are you just too invested in the team?
I think so. It makes it harder than it would be if it was just a job. I’ve often said that I would enjoy this more as a fan, which maybe some people won’t be able to comprehend. If you choose to combine your escape with your occupation, it can get overwhelming. Certainly, our success has been unbelievably fulfilling and it has been fun, but maybe there’s some separation that should exist but doesn’t. But it’s a great story. It’s great for my parents, it’s great for my friends—great for everybody who grew up here.
Before coming to the Warriors in 2011, you had a very successful career as a sports agent in LA. Why did you make this career shift?
The common theme for my life is that I just really love basketball. Coming out of college, the agent path was really the only one that was there for me. I met an agent who recommended I go to law school, so I went to law school at night and I got to learn the business of basketball from the agent side. I got a good peek behind the curtain of what the business of the NBA looks like.
At some point I realized that as an agent, I was engaged in these single-entity transactions. I’m not really building anything. I’m not putting a puzzle together. On this side of the business, the challenge is to build something, to make it great. That idea was really intriguing to me.
When we hire someone, the most important thing to know about them is: Who are they at their worst? Bob Myers
How did you land the job with the Warriors?
I remember I was in Las Vegas in 2010 for the summer league and heard that Joe Lacob bought the Warriors. Joe had been a minority owner of the Boston Celtics, so we both knew Danny Ainge. I asked Danny if I could meet Joe and said I’d love to work for the Warriors at some point. So, credit Joe. I always joke around that I wouldn’t have hired me if I had just spent $450 million—more than anybody ever had—on an NBA team. I think maybe because of his background in Silicon Valley and building businesses, he was able to take a risk on me. But the way it came about—just like the UCLA thing—didn’t make a lot of sense. The dots you had to connect weren’t close together.
Joe hired you as the assistant general manager of the team, but within a year, you became the GM. What did the organization see in you that led to your quick ascension?
I’ve asked Joe what you just asked me: “Why did you hire me?” I think what he probably saw in me—I’m guessing—was someone who really cared and was passionate about the job, someone who would continue to try to learn and grow, and would collaborate with others and not feel like he knew everything—which I certainly didn’t.
You’ve built this world-class franchise in a short time. Beyond just recruiting great talent, what’s the method to your magic?
What makes any company successful is the people who work there. People like Joe [Lacob], Peter Guber, guys like Rick Welts and Steve Kerr. We look at it as, Are you part of our solution? Are you part of our success, or are you not? I think it’s as simple as that. Now, finding the right people is really hard.
Aside from great talent, what do you value most in your players?
Well, talent is the obvious part. We need that. And, then, it’s character. When we hire someone, the most important thing to know about them is: Who are they at their worst? That’s what we look for in people on our team because in our business, not only do you win and lose—which brings out a lot of emotion—but you also have [stories] written about you, and it’s very public. All of our successes are glorified in public, but all of our failures are memorialized too.
As a high-profile team, the pressure and the cameras are always on.
When we won the championship, I got 200 text messages. When we lost in game seven, I got, like, two. That’s just life. What we look for is people who say, “I will show up in failure. I’ll be here, and I’ll be professional.” Having guys like Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson], Draymond [Green], Andre [Iguodala], Kevin [Durant] and David West. All these guys embody professionalism and help sustain that culture. Look at Steve Kerr: He’s experienced the highest level of success, but also the lowest of tragedies in his life. He’s lived the whole spectrum, and he’s overcome and he’s persevered.
You look for people who have lived life and have shown up and have made it through something. You try to get that team together and you say, “Let’s go out in the world and see what we can do with this group of people.” That’s what you do.
How does Steve Kerr maintain that cohesion among a group of NBA superstars?
I mean we all have egos. It’s not a bad word. But I think that in this business, [the question is], How do you properly nurture everybody’s ego? Some people need more than others, some less. Klay Thompson would be fine if he never was interviewed again for the rest of his life. He’s unique. Steph and Klay have the advantage of their fathers having played in the NBA. If you followed in your father’s footsteps, you probably wouldn’t think that what you do is that big of a deal. And here’s why: My dad did it. Steph Curry grew up around Michael Jordan. I mean, Big deal. I play in the NBA. So did my dad.
With two NBA championships in three years, do you ever worry that complacency may set in? How do you all stay motivated?
It has to matter deeply to you. It has to be personal, because if it’s not and you’ve already tasted what it’s like—you’ve seen the top of the mountain—you will probably struggle to climb that mountain again. But if, deep down, you’ve got this competitiveness, you’ve got this desire and work ethic to say, “I want to do it again,” you will. That’s why coaches and teammates are so important. Because when you’re halfway up that mountain and you think, I don’t need to do this, it’s your teammate or coach who says, “Come on, it’s right there. We’ve done it before. It’s awesome up there. You remember how great it is up there? Let’s go.”
I’m happiest when… I’m with my family, wife, and kids.
The biggest risk I’ve ever taken…
If I had a magic wand, I would…
Give it Steve Kerr
My biggest regret…
Not getting to spend as much time with my brother-in-law [Scott Dinsmore, who died in a climbing accident in September 2015]. Bob Myers
The Warriors are moving from Oakland to the new Chase Center in San Francisco in 2019. What effect do you think this will have on the team? On the fans?
Growing up here, I always heard the rumblings of San Francisco. At some point, it was going to happen. Oracle is the oldest arena in the NBA. Teams are now putting themselves in very urban areas surrounded by restaurants; Oracle just doesn’t fit the modern arena. The good news is that it’s 10 miles away, but there will be that adjustment. I do think the move will be really positive, and the facility will be world-class. I’m really excited. I believe the move will be one of those things that when it’s done, people will say, “I can’t believe it took this long.” But that’s not to discredit or demean any of the wonderful fans we have.
You have a young family. Your job is incredibly time-consuming and I’m sure very emotionally taxing as well. How do you find a balance between work and family?
I don’t know—I mean, finding the balance is the hardest thing I try to do and the thing I feel worst about. Because I love my job, I love my family, and there isn’t enough time for both, to be honest. That causes me probably more stress than anything else. I chose an occupation that works on holidays, that works at night, on Saturdays and Sundays. It just has no boundaries, so I have to create my own.
You and your family live in San Francisco. What do you love most about the city?
It’s the energy. That’s what we love. When we moved from Brentwood [LA County], we tried living in Lafayette. Lafayette is wonderful. It’s beautiful. But we just felt like, What else is there? In San Francisco, I feel like there’s always something else—you never have it figured out. And I never want to.