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Spurs' Kerr rings up unlikely success


NEW YORK -- Steve Kerr shouldn't be here, in this town playing in this event, and even he knows it.

Logic says Kerr, at age 33, should be selling real estate or by now, regaling his three children with stories of a great college career followed by a stop or two in the NBA. Or maybe playing overseas, where there's still a market for a slow, skinny guy who can do nothing but shoot.

Anywhere but here.

Anywhere but Madison Square Garden for last night's Game 3 of the NBA Finals, playing for the rampaging San Antonio Spurs and standing just two victories shy of his fourth consecutive championship ring.

Only 10 other players in league history have accomplished such an incredible feat, and names like Jordan, Chamberlain or even Abdul-Jabbar aren't among them. But sometime this week, chances are excellent that Kerr, he of the 6.7 point career average and 21 percent shooting in this year's Finals, will be.

Is this a great country, or what?

"I've been blessed, no doubt about it," Kerr said with a typically easygoing smile last week. "I've been fortunate to play with some great players on some great teams. Other than that, I can't explain it."

It's really no mystery. Kerr's knack for attaching himself to superstars is as uncanny as his three-point shooting used to be.

Kerr seemingly was headed for CBA oblivion six years ago, having bounced his way through three teams and getting released along the way before ending up with the Chicago Bulls the year after Michael Jordan decided to retire the first time.

But Jordan came back, Kerr found his knack as a player whose only role, one he performed extremely well, was to bury the open outside jumper. And, before you knew it, the skinny little guard from Arizona needed an extra safety deposit box to store all his NBA championship jewelry.

And when Jordan retired the second time, sending the Bulls into their demolition mode, Kerr found himself being traded to San Antonio, home of Tim Duncan, David Robinson and yet another golden opportunity for yet another title ring.

Now Kerr stands on the verge of getting that fourth ring. Going into last night the Spurs were up, 2-0, on the deflated, injury-plagued New York Knicks heading into this week's three scheduled games at the Garden. A sweep appeared imminent.

It all seems like such a sweet little success story for Kerr, except for one thing: With the way he has played this year, especially during the playoffs, Kerr really, truly doesn't deserve to be here.

Jordan's retirement has pulled the curtain back on many of the ex-Bulls, exposing them as mere mortals without No. 23's greatness. Scottie Pippen and Luc Longley come immediately to mind. But no one has been more exposed than Kerr, who admittedly has been awful in the playoffs for San Antonio.

Kerr has played in just eight of the Spurs' 14 postseason games, averaging 2.1 points on 21 percent shooting. Even worse, the NBA's all-time career leader in three-point percentage after last season was just 2-for-12 from the three-point line this spring.

"It's been disappointing," Kerr said. "I haven't played well when I have gotten the chance. I'm disappointed with myself, although I'm happy for the team."

Kerr has exhibited many of the signs that caused him to bounce around the league in the first place. He is slow, can't create his own shot and is a huge defensive liability. Kerr is a one-note player, something that has no place in San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich's system.

That's why it might be wise for Kerr's fans -- and the cleancut Kerr is definitely a fan favorite -- to savor seeing him in a Spurs uniform this year and next.

It's hard to imagine San Antonio holding on to such a limited player, especially one nearing 35 who has so plainly lost much of his ability as well as his spot in the rotation.

That would be unfortunate in some ways, because Kerr would be much easier to criticize if he wasn't such an easy guy to like. He truly is one of the NBA's fan-friendly nice guys in a league that needs all of those it can get.

When you're hurting your team as much or more than helping it, though, patience among NBA coaches and general managers is notoriously short. Kerr might end up becoming that journeyman everyone expected him to be out of college 11 years ago.

No one could have dared predict Kerr's three-ring (and counting) journey this far. But if there is one thing he has shown in his charmed career, it's that he knows how to pick them.

Pub Date: 6/22/99

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