Steve Kerr

Kerr's comedic strategy for possible matchup with Atkinson in Olympics

NBC Universal, Inc.

Kenny Atkinson was better known as “Spunky” by Richmond coach Dick Tarrant when the 6-foot guard helped lead the small school to the Sweet 16 as a sophomore and then was named All-CAA First Team in back-to-back years as a junior and senior. 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr has a different nickname for his former assistant. 

“Yeah, Kenny goes and coaches for the French team and now he goes and coaches for the Cleveland Cavaliers. I think he’s a traitor,” Kerr joked last week to reporters on a Team USA pre-training camp Zoom. “If you know your American history I call him Benedict Arnold.

“I’m obviously joking.” 

The distinction couldn’t have been more obvious. Kerr was ecstatic to add Atkinson ahead of the Warriors’ 2021-22 championship season. He was just as happy to keep Atkinson from taking the Charlotte Hornets’ head coaching job after that season, naming Atkinson his lead assistant with Mike Brown being named the Sacramento Kings’ new head coach. 

Atkinson spent the past three seasons as an assistant to Kerr on the Warriors’ coaching staff. The 57-year-old New York native joined the French national team as an assistant coach in December, already making himself a possible foe of Kerr and Team USA in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. 

It was reported on June 24 that Atkinson was being hired as the Cavs’ next head coach. The news became official four days later.

“Kenny is a great friend,” Kerr said. “We've been coaching together for three years. When he came to me and told me he had been invited to coach with the French team I thought it was an amazing opportunity and I encouraged him to do it.” 

When the Cavs announced Atkinson’s hiring he actually was in Paris at the time prepping for the Olympics. Atkinson flew to Ohio and officially went through his introductory press conference on Monday. 

“He's a great coach,” Kerr said. “That's the reason Cleveland just hired him, and I was very lucky to have him the last few years.” 

The United States and France are two of eight countries that already have qualified for the Olympics. There still are four open spots as others are pushing to punch their ticket from the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments currently being held in Greece, Latvia, Puerto Rico and Spain. 

Warriors longtime assistant Chris DeMarco is the head coach of the Bahamas national team that currently is in Spain looking to make history in reaching the Olympics for the first time ever. 

But Kerr and Team USA won’t play Atkinson and France, or DeMarco and the Bahamas, in the group stage. Team USA is set to play in Group C against Serbia, South Sudan and the winner of an Olympic qualifier in Puerto Rico. France is facing Germany, Japan and the winner of an Olympic qualifier in Group B. 

If Kerr is to go head-to-head, clipboard-to-clipboard, with Atkinson it would be later in the Olympics once the pressure rises. The French are supposed to be one of the summer’s strongest squads – perhaps good enough to challenge the Americans – and are headlined by 7-footers Victor Wembanyama and Rudy Gobert, among more NBA talent. 

In the case Team USA and France find themselves as Olympic opponents, Kerr already has a sarcastic strategy to throw off Atkinson and the French coaching staff. 

“As for his familiarity with me, if we play France I’ll just let Coach Spoelstra and Coach Lue take over, because he’s not as familiar with those guys,” Kerr quipped.

Download and follow the Dubs Talk Podcast

Contact Us