East Bay Person of the Year: An Unselfish Warrior

Steve Kerr is a champion both on and off the court, but he never takes the credit.


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Last June, Kerr's Warriors won their second NBA Title over his former team.

In a September op-ed in Sports Illustrated, Kerr again addressed Trump’s decision to disinvite the Warriors to the White House. “The truth is, we all struggled with the idea of spending time with a man who has offended us with his words and actions time and again,” Kerr said. “Internally, we’d discussed whether it’d be possible to just go and meet as private citizens and have a serious, poignant discussion about some of the issues we’re concerned about. But he’s made it hard for any of us to actually enter the White House, because what’s going on is not normal. It’s childish stuff: belittling people and calling them names. So, to expect to go in and have a civil, serious discourse? Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen.”

After Kerr’s outspokenness on Trump, other Warriors have decided to speak out publicly, too, including Curry. In a Veteran’s Day piece in The Players’ Tribune, Curry wrote that athletes who protest peacefully during the anthem are not attempting to disrespect veterans and the military. “Instead, let’s respect—let’s celebrate—our veterans, by having a conversation about the actual ways that we as civilians, as their fellow Americans they’ve fought to protect, can hold up our end of the bargain. Let’s talk about the broken VA medical system, and traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD. But let’s also talk about homelessness, and unemployment, and mental health, and, yes, racial inequality,” he wrote.

Recently, Kerr on Twitter retweeted a comment that said Trump and the Republicans supported a “pedophile” by backing Roy Moore to be a U.S. senator for Alabama.

Ironically, Kerr’s siblings say their brother showed no signs of being outspoken on political matters as a youth.

“It’s a little hard to say where all this came from,” John Kerr said. “There was zero sign of it when he was a kid. He was really shy and didn’t really like to talk much. I remember my mom frequently getting on his case for not communicating with guests to our house who he didn’t know. “

Kerr’s sister, Susan (Kerr) van de Ven, now a local elected official in England, where she is a citizen, said her brother only showed interest in sports. “But our father was a political scientist, and Middle East politics was always there in the background, either through conversation or by living close to events, which, of course, had a direct impact on us,” she said.

Kerr was born in Beirut, Lebanon. His grandparents settled there after doing relief work that included running an orphanage for Armenian children during World War I, and his grandfather was a professor of biochemistry at the American University of Beirut.

Kerr’s father, Malcolm H. Kerr, was also an academic, specializing in Arab affairs and was teaching at the school, where he had met Kerr’s mother, Ann, while she was studying there.

“Our parents used to discuss how they intended to vote in an upcoming election, weighing up the issues and sometimes splitting their two votes to make a point. That was the kind of household—not overtly activist, but a sense that every person counts, and every person has opportunity and responsibility,” van de Ven said. “I see our father’s qualities in Steve, in the way he confronts serious issues with humor, disarming and bringing people together in the process—and getting straight to the humanity of whatever it is that’s at stake.”

For part of his youth, Kerr lived in Pacific Palisades near UCLA, where his father was a professor for 20 years. The family, including Steve, his sister, and two brothers, lived in an expansive home with views of the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains and a driveway where Kerr practiced shots with a hoop bolted to the roof above the garage.

Kerr also spent significant stretches in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East as a result of his father’s work, and for a time he attended school in Cairo. Those experiences fostered an appreciation for diversity.

“One of the great blessings in my life is to have been raised overseas in different cultures with different people from all over the world,” Kerr told host David Axelrod on CNN in late November.

John Kerr said the experience could not help but expose a person to radically different viewpoints. “We spent time growing up overseas, and we had a lot of multicultural visitors, people from very foreign countries,” he said. “You learn quickly people come in all shapes and stripes, and if you think everyone thinks the same as you, that’s silly.”

Malcolm Kerr often appeared in media outlets and became known “for being fair and evenhanded, but also sticking up for what needed to be said,” John Kerr said.

And then in 1982, Malcolm Kerr was named to the prestigious post of president of American University in Beirut amid severe Arab-Israeli tensions. The last time Steve Kerr left Beirut, the airport had been bombed, and he traveled with a driver across the mountains of Lebanon through Syria to Jordan. In 1984, when Steve Kerr was a freshman at Arizona, his father was assassinated, the murder claimed by Islamic militants.

Kerr, who now has three young adult children with his wife, Margot, his college sweetheart, is now the same age his father was when he died: 52.

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