Second to none
Stephen Donald McKean grew up in Mantorville, Minnesota, USA. He once said he had three childhood toys, a basketball, a baseball and a soccer ball but it was his love for hoops that would eventually bring him to New Zealand.
Steve graduated from Kasson-Mantorville high school in 1961 and joined the Air Force. After this military stint he played Division 1 college basketball at San Jose State college. His shooting skills on court earned him the nickname Bomber. However after his senior year in 1970 he had not been picked in the NBA draft and was planning to move to Tasmania to play basketball there.
His old teammate and friend Bob South was already playing in New Zealand and convinced Steve to come and play in Auckland. Steve joined the dominant Panmure club, which won five national titles on the trot. He also turned his hand to coaching, taking charge of the Auckland men's side. He was appointed head coach of the New Zealand men’s team in 1972 and remained at the helm until 1981, with the side maintaining a winning record that included a breakthrough victory over Australia in 1978.
He coached Auckland to win the inaugural NBL league title in 1982 and his team repeated the feat in 1983. In 1990 Coach moved to New Plymouth with wife Rachel and daughter Naomi to become the New Plymouth Basketball Association's director of coaching. The role never eventuated and Coach, a qualified PE teacher, relieved at Francis Douglas Memorial College, then taught part-time at Spotswood College for two years. He also took on the head coach role with the New Plymouth men's team, the BP Bears. They won the regular season title in 1992 before losing in the playoffs. He was an NBL coach for nine years, during that time was the first coach to notch up 100 NBL wins. He won Basketball New Zealand's Coach of the Year Award in 1978 and in 2002.
Coach took up a role as the first Regional Director of the Taranaki Secondary Schools' Sports Association (TSSSA).
Sport Taranaki Chair Gordon Brown remembers his generosity of spirit, commitment to helping people and to the sport he loved made him perfect for the role.
“He was a guy who got things done and made things happen…he was at his most comfortable when he was giving,” Brown said. “Coach’s secondary school sports programme was a “shining light” for others to follow. He was never just an appointee to a job, he really lived it.”
Former Sport Taranaki CEO Howie Tamati said Coach was a massive part of Sport Taranaki.
“He was fantastic to have, he was an icon in himself. Part of his presence at Sport Taranaki made the place special. He was someone I could sit down and talk to about anything. We formed a really, really strong relationship. I don’t think we ever argued. There was never a cross word with Coach. I really admired him for the way he approached things. He was professional, well-organised and well-prepared.”
As a ‘loud’ American on the sporting side-lines in quiet New Plymouth, he made a great impact, Tamati said.
“He was years ahead of his time in his thinking, we were still very much ‘amateur sport’, reliant on people who were into sport because they loved it…he always spoke well of people and made them feel good. He made them feel respected, as a professional he recognised the value of people giving for the sports they loved.”
“So many kids have benefited from playing sport, making new friends, having great experiences and being introduced to the challenge of competitive sport,’ Tamati said.
Sport Taranaki CEO Michael Carr said Coach was at the heart of Taranaki sport for decades, encouraging and inspiring young people across the region as a mentor, secondary school sports co-ordinator and regional sports director.
His commitment to Taranaki sport burned bright and he remained an influential figure in Taranaki. He was instrumental helping form the Taranaki Basketball Regional Sports Organisation in 2020 and bringing New Zealand Breakers games to New Plymouth.
“He brought so much energy and passion with him. He was ‘basketball man’ who went well beyond basketball and was relevant across all codes. He was respected wherever he went and still carried on inspiring people after decades in the community,” Carr said.
Coach was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2012 for services to sport, picked up a lifetime achievement award at the New Zealand Sport and Recreation Awards in 2016. He was an inaugural inductee in Basketball NZ’s Hall of Fame.
Coach died after a short battle with cancer on 3 May 2021, aged 77 and hundreds gathered from around New Zealand to pay tribute to him during a service at TSB Stadium. There he was remembered as a remarkable player, phenomenal coach and a loving husband and father who had an impact on thousands of young people.
To recognise Coach's impact on Taranaki sports Rachel and Naomi McKean have partnered with the Taranaki Foundation to establish a sports endowment fund designed to build a lasting legacy for young athletes across the region.
“Our larger-than-life husband and father...was an instrumental and avid supporter of budding Taranaki sportspeople. In his memory we encourage those who are able to donate to The ‘Coach’ McKean Fund which will support promising young athletes.”
In 2022 the fund supported the Future Champions Programme run in partnership between Sport Taranaki and the Taranaki Secondary School Sports Association.
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