3

You can’t touch the Golden State Warriors now: 2015 NBA champs

Looking back on it now, it’s hard for Nick U’Ren to believe he even considered the alternative. But he was just 21 at the time. It’s not easy to see the big picture at that age. So U’Ren took a few days to decide whether to pay his own airfare so he could work at a camp for foreign basketball prospects in Treviso, Italy.

“I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it,” he says. “But then I kinda sat back and thought: ‘What am I thinking? If this is what I want to do with my life. I have to go. It’s Italy. It’s a chance to meet basketball people. I have to go.”

U’Ren called his parents and asked for a little help, dug into his savings for the rest of the $1,500 plane ticket and got on a plane. He’d met NBA types at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he volunteered throughout college. He’d gotten to know others as the manager of the basketball team at the University of San Diego. In Treviso, he met Steve Kerr, then the general manager of the Phoenix Suns.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

U’Ren told Kerr he had just graduated and had always dreamed of working in the NBA. Kerr told him he couldn’t pay him much. U’Ren told Kerr he didn’t care because he was from Phoenix and could live at home with his folks, if that made Kerr feel better about the arrangement.

That fall, U’Ren started work as Kerr’s assistant. He soaked up everything he could and did whatever he was asked. Kerr’s family was still in San Diego at the time, so he’d often invite the wide-eyed kid out to dinner after a long workday.

“I didn’t know if this is how it was for everybody or if I was just the luckiest kid in the world,” U’Ren says. “It’s really amazing how these small decisions you make end up changing everything.”3

If this story had been told a few weeks ago, you’d probably think it was quaint — another example of how nice Steve Kerr can be. But if you’ve been following these NBA Finals, Nick U’Ren is a household name. He’s the 28-year-old video coordinator who suggested inserting forward Andre Iguodala into the Golden State Warriors starting lineup after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had thrown the Warriors into an existential crisis by going up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. James had somehow turned the series into a game of 1-on-1. The Cavs were dictating the pace of the series by walking the ball up the court and swarming league MVP Stephen Curry every time he touched the ball, throttling the Warriors’ free-flowing offense.

With every sluggish possession, Golden State was confirming the doubts traditionalists such as Charles Barkley had raised about their jump-shooting offense all year. Somehow, they needed to change things up and get back to who they were. In the middle of the night after Game 3, U’Ren had an idea.cheap nfl custom jerseys

What if they just went extra-small by inserting Iguodala into the starting lineup for center Andrew Bogut? What if they stopped pretending to play a traditional lineup with a center, two forwards and two guards? What if they just put their five best, most-skilled players on the court and let them play?

“It was a hell of an idea,” says Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry, who runs the team’s offense. “At first I was kind of against it, like, ‘We won 67 games playing the way we play, we shouldn’t change it now.'”

But Gentry has always been open to suggestion. He’s a malleable guy, not a preacher. At 60, with three decades in the NBA, he’s long since decided there’s no right or wrong way of playing. The Warriors coaching staff met in the morning before Game 4 and decided to make the switch. The rest is NBA history. Golden State won its first title in 40 years, Iguodala went on to be named the Finals MVP, Kerr became the first rookie coach to win a championship since Pat Riley in 1982. And U’Ren? He’s still trying to explain what happened.