Luke Walton will go down as a cult-favorite for Los Angeles Lakers fans. The "LUUUUUUUKE" chants that once filled Staples Center may be lost, but they aren't forgotten. Walton no longer puts on a jersey and basketball shorts, instead having to coordinate suits and ties for his work on the Golden State Warriors' sidelines. Once again he finds himself in the NBA Finals, this time as an assistant coach instead of a role player.
Rookie head coach Steve Kerr -- who has his own championship experience to bring to the table -- has the tall task of leading a team that's never been to the NBA Finals to a Larry O'Brien trophy. Walton has been a key leader for a Warriors locker room that features the kind of kinship players haven't been a part of elsewhere in the league. His role becomes even more important for the franchise going forward as assistant coach Alvin Gentry prepares to move on to take over head coaching duties with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Kerr has leaned on Walton to help mold the Warriors' "championship mindset" as they prepare to take on LeBron James in his fifth straight NBA Finals run. Luke reached back to the 2008 Lakers to deliver a powerful anecdote to a team that's never played in a championship series, via Sam Amick of USA TODAY:
"It's not good enough just to be here," Walton told [the Warriors].
He told them the story of 2008 Lakers, who were manhandled by the Boston Celtics in a six-game Finals loss that Walton said changed the way they were wired. Kobe Bryant was a Finals regular at that point, but forward Pau Gasol and several Lakers role players were there for the first time.
"We were so excited to be there, not overwhelmed, but we were happy to be in the NBA Finals," Walton remembered. "And Boston came in and kind of smacked us around in that Game 6 ... It gave us a different mindset the next year. The next year when we got to the NBA Finals, all the media and all the people calling, none of us cared about any of that. It was all about winning the NBA Finals, so I just wanted to try to paint a picture for them of the different mindset we had on the championship we won, and when we got there and were just happy to be here."
Walton's certainly come a long way from being a player development coach with the Los Angeles D-fenders, but it's not surprising he's found a calling on the sideline. His basketball I.Q. kept him in the league for a decade as a player, and it's looking like it will elongate his involvement with the NBA even further.
Check out the entire profile on how Walton's helped shape the Warriors over at USA Today.