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Steve Kerr: the moral compass at the heart of the Golden State Warriors

Basketball was the furthest thing from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s mind ahead of his team’s playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

A few hours earlier 21 people, including 19 children, had been killed in a shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas. He followed soon after a self-described white supremacist terrorist was charged with killing 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket. Kerr, hands and voice shaking, oscillated between anger and devastation as he refused to talk about basketball and instead highlighted the political dysfunction that has helped such slaughter become all too common in the United States.

“There are 50 senators right now who are refusing to vote on HR8, which is a background check ruler [for gun purchases] that the House passed a few years ago. He was seated [in the Senate] for two years,” Kerr said. “There’s a reason they won’t vote: to retain power.”

By the end of the press conference, Kerr was too angry to continue. “It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough,” he said and walked out of the room.

Kerr, along with the likes of his mentor, Gregg Popovich, and star players LeBron James and Chris Paul, is one of the NBA’s moral centers. It’s no surprise that gun violence is such a poignant subject for Kerr. His father was shot in Beirut in 1984. Kerr was playing college basketball in Arizona at the time, and the incident defined much of his life.

“There are a few issues that I’m particularly passionate about, one being gun control,” he told me when I spoke to him about my book. We Matter: Athletes and Activism. “My dad was murdered, so gun control is still something I’m very passionate about, and that was really the first issue I raised with the media years ago.”

According to CNN, the 18-year-old shooter in the Texas shooting had legally purchased two assault rifles and ammunition for his birthday in the days leading up to the massacre. The gunman accused of the Buffalo murders is also 18 and had also legally purchased assault rifles, one of which he allegedly used during the murders. Why a teenager needs – or is allowed – to own an assault rifle is unbelievable. Politicians, as usual, offered empty words after the shooting in Texas. Republican Tony Gonzales, who represents Texas’ 23rd congressional district, which includes Uvalde, tweeted a message in which he said, “I know the people of Uvalde. I love them. There are absolutely no words to describe the pain our community is carrying right now. It’s the same politician who in March 2021 tweeted that“I am a proud supporter of the 2nd Amendment and will do everything I can to oppose the taking up of arms by the far left”.

This all speaks straight to the heart of Kerr’s frustration and why he was livid during his press conference on Tuesday.

“I’m so tired to stand up here and offer my condolences to the devastated families out there. I’m so tired,” Kerr said. “Excuse me. I’m sorry. I’m tired of moments of silence. Sufficient.”

Steve Kerr makes his emotional statement ahead of the Warriors' Dallas playoff game.
Steve Kerr makes his emotional statement ahead of the Warriors’ Dallas playoff game. Photo: Scott Strazzante/AP

The Warriors ended up losing the game to the Mavericks 119-109, but Kerr’s bravery was not lost on the Warriors players. Golden State star guard Stephen Curry retweeted his coach’s entire pregame press conference, with the caption, “Watch this as much as you watch the game tonight.”

Curry followed up that tweet with more praise for Kerr. “I appreciate his leadership. It’s on everyone’s mind to get in the game,” Curry said. “It’s a bit difficult to stay focused on the basketball. It happened in this state. I have children, I take them to school every day, I drop them off.

His teammate Damion Lee agreed after the match. “It’s just sad. You saw Steve’s pre-game presser. Those are my exact same sentiments,” Lee said. “It’s sad the world we live in. We need to reform this. It’s easier to have a gun than formula. It’s incredible.”

As a former player, I can testify to the fact that trust and respect are crucial in the relationship between player and coach. During my interview with Coach Kerr in my book, he talked about how he gives players the freedom to be who they are and talked to me about things his team is passionate about.

He supported his players when they refused to visit the White House while Donald Trump was in power, and supported them when they spoke out against racism and police brutality. Indeed, Kerr himself has had his own battles with Trump and attacked the former president’s proposed ban on refugees and travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries in 2017.

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“I would just say that as someone who has a family member who has been a victim of terrorism, having lost my father, if we try to fight terrorism by banning people from coming to this country, by really going to the against the principles of what our country is and creating fear is the wrong way to go about it,” said Kerr at the time.

He told me how that desire to listen to players is reciprocated when he’s passionate about something like gun control. He told me the Warriors had team talks, shared opinions, learned from each other and how it benefited them as a team. In that sense, Kerr treats his team like a second family. “International issues and societal issues and political opinions were discussed at the dinner table [when Kerr was growing up]”Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser told the Guardian in 2018.

It is important for players and coaches to support each other when speaking out on topics they value, as they seek to bring about positive change in society. And the bond created by the support does not detract from their daily work either: the Warriors are only one victory away from NBA finals and a shot at the fourth championship of Kerr’s reign at Golden State.

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