Steve Kerr admits to pot use in the wake of his debilitating, painful back surgeries

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Kelly Dwyer
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Steve Kerr and former teammate Dennis Rodman. (Getty Images)
Steve Kerr and former teammate Dennis Rodman. (Getty Images)

Steve Kerr’s crippling back pain has led the Golden State Warriors coach, who was born and raised in California and works in the Bay Area, to try pot in an attempt to cure the pain that two different surgeries could not tramp down.

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It didn’t work, but regardless of the outcome the idea remains that in 2016 the declaration seems rather toothless. Not because Steve Kerr is some Woody Allen-styled spaz at the party, knocking over the good stuff and ruining it for the whole living room, but because most are beyond worrying about the potential spoils and dangers of cannabis.

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Kerr inhaled recently, as he likely did as a youth growing up in the 1980s or NBA pro in the 1990s, and it didn’t work for him. He is forever on a quest to quell the back pain (and resultant stifling headaches and aversion to light) that have plagued him since he underwent emergency back surgery following his team’s 2015 NBA championship run.

The Golden State coach and former champion Chicago Bull and San Antonio Spur, though, told Monte Poole in an interview with the Warriors Insider Podcast that pot served as no relief for his pain, but that shouldn’t mean it can’t help others cope:

“I guess maybe I can even get in some trouble for this, but I’ve actually tried it twice during the last year and a half, when I’ve been going through this chronic pain that I’ve been dealing with,” Kerr said Friday on The Warriors Insider Podcast.

“(After) a lot of research, a lot of advice from people and I have no idea if maybe I would have failed a drug test. I don’t even know if I’m subject to a drug test or any laws from the NBA.”

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement does not call for drug testing for coaches, though continued minutes for Anderson Varejao in the Golden State frontcourt, coupled with this proclamation, may force the league to look into monitoring its coaches.

Kerr went on, discussing how the pot experiment went for him:

“I’m not a pot person; it doesn’t agree with me,” Kerr said. “I’ve tried it a few times, and it did not agree with me at all. So I’m not the expert on this stuff. But I do know this: If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you’ve got a lot of pain, I don’t think there is any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

The interview comes in the wake of the NFL’s decision to suspend Buffalo Bills offensive lineman (you know … the guy that gets hit on every play) Seantrel Henderson ten games for a marijuana offense. Henderson uses the drug to help combat the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, which leaves him and his surgically-altered digestive system unable to take typical pain medication via pill.

The NFL, like the NBA, makes no reference to medical use for marijuana in its collective bargaining agreement with players. Though marijuana has become legal for medical and even recreational use in several states, New York is not one of those states, so the NFL sees the Bills lineman as a criminal caught, and not as a sufferer using.

The NBA’s stance isn’t as harsh as the NFL’s.

One positive test leads to the entrance of the Marijuana Program for players, and a second positive test results in a $25,000 fine (as opposed to the ten-game suspension in the NFL, a league that plays 16 games a year). A third positive test will cost you a five-game suspension, and any further positive test adds another five games to the initial count.

To date, no NBA player has made it past step three. The league isn’t as strident or exacting in its tests, which can be random, but in a league with 400-odd players straining knees and backs from year to year the idea that nobody has hit the ten-game rank is rather remarkable.

Steve Kerr is and will remain a remarkable case. A five-time champion as a player, he led the Warriors to the NBA title as coach in 2014-15 during his rookie season on the sideline. The back pain that crept up on him throughout that postseason run finally necessitated in Kerr undergoing offseason surgery soon after the team’s title run. A second surgery to clear up complications resulted in a leak of spinal fluid that led to Kerr taking a leave of absence from the Warriors that stretched nearly four months.

The pain persists, though, for the NBA’s Coach of the Month in November. And the typical handful of pain pills just doesn’t seem as safe an alternative:

“I know enough, especially over the last couple years, having gone through my own bout with chronic pain, I know enough about this stuff – Vicodin is not good for you,” said Kerr, who still has experiences discomfort. “It’s way worse for you than pot, especially if you’re looking for a painkiller and you’re talking about medicinal marijuana, the different strains what they’re able to do with it as a pain reliever.”

This doesn’t mean Vicodin, or downing a 12-pack of lager, is ineffectual. Repeated use, as many have found, just isn’t prudent.

Kerr, in the podcast, went on:

“I would hope,” Kerr said, “especially for these NFL guys, who are basically involved in a car wreck every Sunday – and maybe four days later, the following Thursday, which is another insane thing the NFL does – I would hope that league will come to its senses and institute a different sort of program where they can help these guys get healthier rather than getting hooked on these painkillers.”

To date, Kerr is the first NBA head coach to have admitted to pot use, though a look around the league (reporters are probably readying their notebooks in the face of the league’s more candid sideline stalkers) would probably reveal more and more head coaches have used (or, shock horror, are still using) marijuana to combat pain that could linger over from a coach’s playing career, as 17 of the league’s 30 coaches have some pro playing experience.

Or, perhaps, some NBA coaches just like a bit of recreation use in their easy chair while ‘Court and Spark’ plays in the living room. An exercise they would no doubt prefer their players, whose usual post-game comedown alternative is usually presented in the form of a bouncing club and bottle service, emulate if need be.

The sad takeaway, in a culture that isn’t as fearful of cannabis as it used to be, is that one of the NBA’s leading lights remains in pain despite his team’s continued success, and after two significant surgeries.

Steve Kerr has put on a brave face, he’s dutifully showed up to work with the Warriors and we appreciate his candor and thoughts in this podcast.

What we really need to figure out is a way for this subject not to come up. Not because the NBA doesn’t need to have its big Pot Conversation, it does. But because we need to find a way for Steve Kerr to move from day to day pain-free.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!