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The Life-Saving Tao of Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors

Mired in a mental-health crisis that left him suicidal, Shane Anderson found solace — and healing — in the four core values preached by the 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, a journey he captures in his new book ‘After the Oracle’

With a love of 19th century philosophy and the ability to get past the bouncer at Berghain in Berlin, Shane Anderson isn’t exactly a conventional sports writer — and his new book, After the Oracle, or: How the Golden State Warriors’ Four Core Values Can Change Your Life Like They Changed Mine, isn’t exactly a conventional sports book. In fact, Anderson’s first full-length book is boldly genre-bending, dancing between traditional memoir, self-help, philosophy and Golden State Warriors history, seen through the eyes of a lifelong fan. 

After the Oracle opens with Anderson working his way out of a mental health crisis that had culminated in psychotic episodes and a suicide attempt. Overwhelmed by the combined forces of his semi-recent divorce, spinal surgery, expat existentialism (he lives in Germany) and complicated family relationships, basketball offered a blissful respite from the chaos, what Anderson often refers to early in the book as an “escape.” That year, scrolling through a Golden State Warriors subreddit, he discovered a pep talk delivered by Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who instructed the team to live and play by four central principles: joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition. 

Armed with the conviction of someone with nothing left to lose, Anderson built himself back up from his breakdown using the very same concepts that strengthened the team he’d loved faithfully since childhood. After the Oracle uses that journey as its backbone, segmenting Anderson’s experiments with each value (joy, mindfulness, compassion, competition) into chapters, arranged in chronological order. All the while, there’s extensive description of the Golden State Warriors: their gameplay through the years, their management, their online community and Anderson’s personal history as a Warriors fan. There are also two sections in the book (“Beginning, Again”) that break that format wholesale, offering philosophical musings on the nature of his experiment and the difficulty of “chang[ing] one’s life,” a Rilke refrain that comes up again and again in the text. 

Though After the Oracle’s unique form caused bumps along the road to publication — “Publishers kept saying, ‘This book is unpublishable,’” Anderson mentions during our interview — its unconventionality offers multiple points-of-entry: sports trivia for basketball fans; gritty memoir for nonfiction fans; self-improvement strategies for pop psych fans. Not surprisingly then, our recent conversation similarly ran the gamut. We talked about Anderson’s relationship to basketball, fatherhood, masculinity, fandom, faith, and most importantly, hope. 

Let’s start with basketball. How did you get into it as a fan? And when did the Golden State Warriors become “your” team? 

I grew up loving the game. I must’ve been very young — six or so — and I played all of the sports. Sports were very, very important to me. It was also a way to bond with my dad, because he was really into sports. 

Basketball in particular has always been very important to me. As a kid, I’d spend literally every day outside shooting hoops. Just imagining the countdown — three, two, one, buzzer beaters — trying to copy peoples’ moves, having imaginary games in my head of, like, Hakeem Olajuwon versus Michael Jordan. It was interesting, because my creative world and my physical world — my sports world — were always very tied together. I always had these very elaborate games in my head. 

My family was always Oakland sports fans. My dad’s family were Raiders fans and A’s fans, and the Warriors played right across the way. My first game was at what would become Oracle Arena. It was always a magical place, and a magical team. 

In the book, you describe the Warriors’ “bad years,” and how difficult they are to witness as a devoted fan. On top of that, throughout your life, there have been times — including now — when the Warriors aren’t anywhere near to being your local team. In that vein, what does Warriors fandom specifically do for you?

It’s hard to say what it is exactly. Is it a sense of belonging? A sense of shared history? And a sense that, when they’re not doing well, everybody suffers together. It’s a sense of home, in a lot of ways, even if it’s not necessarily your home. You put your love and your energy into something, into a place, and then it becomes part of you. And that doesn’t change. [My relationship to the Warriors] did change a little bit when I came to Europe, because it seemed so far away. But then, when you rediscover it, it’s actually the most amazing feeling in the world, because you’re, like, “This is a part of me.”

It’s clear that South Lake Tahoe, California — the place you grew up — is loaded for you, and now, you’re growing a family in another country. What does “home” mean to you now? And what does it mean to “root for the home team” from so far away?

Home is what you make it: My love and my passion for the Warriors is wherever I am. It’s part of me. California’s no longer home anymore, which brings up a lot of conflicting emotions — acceptance, sadness, joy. [Laughs

For a long, long time, I felt lost. I didn’t quite understand why I wasn’t willing to go back to the U.S. from Germany, but somehow, I wasn’t. There was nothing that could make me do it. I had all kinds of reasons — political, environmental, you name it — but really, if I’m honest with myself, a lot of it also had to do with there being something that was telling me “no.” Just a voice that said, “No, that’s not home anymore.” 

I don’t go back, really, either. I haven’t been back since 2016. 

In 2015, you decided to live your life based on four values mentioned by Steve Kerr in a pep talk to the team: joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition. Are you still doing that today? 

I definitely still try to live my life according to those values; they’re my compass. I really try to make sure what I’m doing, how I’m acting and how I feel are in line with those ideas. I do it in all of my interactions: playing basketball with the guys; hanging out with my son; spending time with my wife; hanging out with my friends; even editing. 

It’s not easy; it’s a real struggle. I’ve figured out that these are damn good things to live by — to work toward — but that’s why I have all these “Beginning, Again” chapters in the book, too. The book is also very much about these moments where I haven’t succeeded, because I feel like the typical self-help book will try and tell you that if you do xyz, you’re fine — you’ve got it figured out — and that’s just not true. 

I hope that readers don’t get too upset with themselves if they try living by these values and fail. I wrote the book the way it is so that readers can see situations where somebody else has really put themselves out there, and failed in it, too.

I want to talk a bit about faith, which I feel like is a big theme for you: There’s an earnestness to how you pursue self-improvement. 

Well, I mean, I had to have a lot of faith. I took a very long time to write this book, and I took a very long time to figure out what the book was — where it was going to go, and what I was going to tell.  

Being a fan of a team — a devoted fan like you — is also a kind of faith, in a way.

Totally. Fans have all kinds of strange rituals, things like: “If I don’t watch the game, they won’t win,” or “If I go get some soda during the third quarter, they’re more likely to hit their free throws for the rest of the time.” Fandom is very much about faith, and faith has a lot to do with continuing to believe in something when all factual information would suggest that you shouldn’t, right? Somehow, you just know. For whatever reason, you have to. It has to be true. 

You discovered Steve Kerr’s pep talk in a Reddit thread, but you’re also a devoted student of highbrow intellectuals like James Baldwin, Emily Dickinson and Bertolt Brecht. It’s kind of unusual to see subreddits quoted with equal value alongside, say, Rilke. 

I’ve always felt like there’s all kinds of people who have access to wisdom. Not just the philosophers, and the poets and the coaches, but also the people in Reddit threads. I’ve had people in my life that I always felt were so wise, but who had no college education, and no high school education, and I respect all of their ideas equally. 

There’s huge class-hopping that’s happened in my life, which has its own complexes of guilt. Because you realize, for whatever reason, things are easier for you than they are for a lot of the people that you grew up with. I think that has a lot to do with this sense of curiosity that I have. For example, a long time ago, something really bad happened and I was talking to a friend about it who I hadn’t seen for a long time. At one point, I said, “But it’s okay; I really learned my lesson, and that’s just the way it’s gonna be.” And he was just, like, “You know, Shane, it’s just actually incredible.” And I was, like, “What?” And he was like, “You look at everything like that. Like, the worst possible thing in the world could happen, and you’d be, like, ‘It’s alright. Lemme think about it. I’ve figured it out; I’ll try to not let that happen again.’” 

It doesn’t mean you always get it right on the second time, but I’ve just always seen these things as a challenge. 

It’s interesting to hear you describe yourself as an optimist. Do you think you’ve always been that way?

Having come from difficult times, I can also put things in perspective a little bit in terms of knowing what’s really worth getting worried about. I mean, I’m not going to pretend like I don’t worry. I think, deep down, I’m optimistic, but I have a pessimistic shell. 

You’re very candid about your struggles with your mental health prior to finding Steve Kerr’s four core values. Hope can be a hard thing to feel during mental-health crises, but in some ways, maybe optimism — just the smallest bit — is essential to getting through those times.

Yeah. I survived my suicide attempt in ways that I don’t totally understand. I realized that there was something inside of me that really wanted to live. Because it could’ve happened. And it didn’t. So, all I can say is, there’s something inside me that didn’t want to die. And whatever that thing was, I had to listen to it. 

Things really turned around, though, once I found these values, and made the decision to live this way. It kind of all came together from there: I started meditating; I found the love of my life, who also helped by encouraging me to do it. And then everything sort of turned around. 

A few times early on in the book, you describe sports as an escape (e.g., “To avoid thinking about myself, I thought about the Warriors game that just ended”), which I found ironic because, through sports — and pardon the cringe — you actually found yourself. Do you really consider sports escapist, or was that more a part of your thought process a few years ago? 

It’s a question of intention. If you play chess a certain number of hours a day because you don’t wanna deal with things, then it’s escapist. But if you’re really paying attention to the way you’re playing and the other person is playing, then you can figure something else out about who that person is and about yourself. It’s all really a question of presence. 

So much of the book is about this question of presence. Sports is very much a way for a lot of people to get out and get away from their lives, but that’s because their lives might be very difficult and shitty, and they don’t live in conditions where they feel supported, or where they feel like it’s possible to get out, or rise above. 

A lot of people pour all of their beliefs into sports. Rather than seeing, maybe, this faith that we’ve been talking about as a guiding principle in life. They just dump it all on this team. This is why there’s so much domestic abuse with sports, and why it can also be just so ugly. It has a lot to do with the lack of spirituality in our lives. 

People have become so skeptical, but we need a sense of being connected to something greater than ourselves. That’s why I think people get so disappointed when their team doesn’t make it, because that’s what they’ve put all of their beliefs in. It’s not just a game; it’s an existential crisis. It’s, like, this is part of you.

Earlier in our conversation, you talked about how basketball was a way that you connected to your dad. You’re now a dad, too — are you planning to raise a Warriors fan? How does your fandom factor into your fatherhood? 

There’s a certain level of indoctrination just through enthusiasm. There’s a chant that goes, “Let’s go, Warriors, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch”, and so, Kian, who’s two and a half, will go, “Let’s go, Warriors!” and run through the house. 

Early on, I got him a onesie that was a Warriors onesie, but I’ve definitely cooled that down a bit. It’s more interesting if he’s able to find the things that bring him to that place — you know, for me, it was basketball. Basketball allowed me to find this sense of presence and meaning; this sense of focus. But it’s unlikely that it’s gonna be the same for him.

I’d like for us to have these moments with basketball like I had with my dad, where it was just really special. It was something we shared, that we did together. When my wife was pregnant, we went to the doctor, and they did all these measurements of Kian, and they said that his legs were gonna be really big. I was like, “Yes! He’s gonna be a baller!” 

But now, I’d just rather him find whatever it is that does that thing that basketball did for me. I hope that he finds that for himself. That’s the most important thing — that we all find that space, whatever it is. It could be sewing, it could be gardening, riding a bike or a unicycle, juggling, rock climbing, whatever. The most important thing is that we find that space where we can have presence, and that we can know from that how to take it into our everyday lives.