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Stray thoughts: Teams that run on love and joy

  • 23 August 2022
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  After the Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA championship, US sportswriter Ramona Shelbourne interviewed some of the personnel on the team about their coach, Steve Kerr, and what he had brought to a squad that had previously come close to success without ever quite getting there. 

‘We don’t have a mean streak or think it’s “us against the world”’, assistant coach Nick U’Ren told her. ‘It’s a love for each other and a love for the game.’

A former teammate of basketball great Michael Jordan, Kerr saw first-hand how a ruthless, single-minded pursuit of victory can lead a team to greatness. Michael Jordan pushed himself, and everyone around him, to be better. He was known for belittling teammates, refusing to give an inch even in practice, trash talking opponents, and using perceived slights to motivate himself during games. That approach helped him to win six championships. He became the measuring stick for any elite athlete – ‘Yes, they’ve got talent. But do they have the will to win of a Michael Jordan?’

Yet despite winning multiple championships alongside Jordan, Kerr brought a different approach to the Golden State Warriors. Shelbourne describes how, rather than insisting on a single-minded pursuit of victory, Kerr encouraged players and coaches to find a balance between playing the game and living their lives – spending time with family, reading, or playing golf in between games.

Warriors assistant coach Nick U’Ren recalls when the team was 2-1 down in their playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Most coaches would start berating the team about their performance, or trying to evoke their anger. ‘[Kerr] just said we needed to let good things happen to us’, says U’Ren. ‘I think that was his way of saying: “Be aware of how lucky we are. Have fun. Allow good things to happen to us by treating people with compassion and playing with joy.”’


'Is ruthlessness an essential part of sporting success? Or are players better off following Steve Kerr’s advice – to remember how lucky they are, have fun, and allow good things to happen to them by treating people with compassion and playing with joy?'  

Shelbourne concludes, ‘Jordan was a singular person with an approach that works for him. But not every great player or team is motivated by anger or spite. There are teams that run on love