Steve Kerr isn’t just one of the winningest coaches in the NBA, he’s one of the more outspoken ones as well. Known for his progressive politics as well as his record-breaking tenure with the Golden State Warriors, Kerr covered both bases in a talk at the Kennedy School this week.
Tommie Shelby, Caldwell Titcomb Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies, moderated the talk before a capacity crowd. Shelby prompted Kerr to reach into his past for moments that shaped his worldview and his coaching style. A lifetime of international travel was central, said Kerr, who was born in Beirut, the son of UCLA professor and Middle East scholar Malcolm H. Kerr.
“My earliest memory was people visiting my parents all the time, so I’d always hear these discussions about peace in the Middle East. And I remember getting mad that they could watch the news, and I couldn’t watch the Lakers game,” he said. “One of the great benefits of living overseas was that I was exposed to many things outside of my own bubble. Sports only magnified that [in college] because I was playing with African American teammates. When you get to know someone that well, you can appreciate that they come from a different place than you.” This, he suggested, is a lesson that more people could stand to learn nowadays. “You only need to watch the impeachment hearings to see the divisions that exist.”
Shelby also asked Kerr about the trauma over the 1984 murder of his father, then the president of the American University of Beirut, by Lebanese militia members. “That was the beginning of the era we’re in now, where there is a constant level of [terrorist] threat, said Kerr, who was a college freshman at the time. “It shaped my whole life; the way I look at each day. The perspective it gave me was that family is everything, and that is the way I coach. The game itself is a basketball game — not that big a deal. And yet it is so fragile. Everything can be taken away just like that. So I try to remind guys to seize every opportunity … and to take the power they hold to make a difference in their communities.”