OAKLAND -– Conquest assured, the hugs started coming, one after another, with broad grins spreading all along the Warriors bench. And Steve Kerr, the rookie coach, let his mind drift just a little.
As the clock ticked toward zeros at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Tuesday night, Kerr thought of his team, the Warriors, who have come so far, so fast, taking out the Cavaliers in six games to win the NBA Championship.
Kerr thought of his basketball mentors, from his college coach Lute Olson to the likes of Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson in the NBA.
Kerr also thought of the first influential man in his life, his father, Malcolm Kerr, a man who loved his basketball, who took his sons to games at UCLA, and also stood for the right principles. “There was a combination of regret that he couldn’t be here and also the recognition that the whole reason I’ve been able to enjoy these things is because of him and my mom,” Kerr told CSNBayArea.com on Thursday. “Because of the upbringing they gave me.
“So it’s mixed emotions. It’s thankfulness for having a great dad for 18 years and for him, along with my mom, to give me this life, and then great sadness that he couldn’t be here to enjoy it.”
An expert on Arab affairs who followed a calling to work in the Middle East, Malcolm Kerr became president of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon in September 1982. He was a man of peace, a diplomat, there to help, taking a dangerous job. His predecessor, acting president David Dodge, had been kidnapped and held in an Iranian prison for a year.
Seventeen months into his tenure, on Jan. 18, 1984, two Iran-supported Islamic terrorists reportedly carrying silencer-equipped revolvers barged in and ambushed Kerr outside his office. He was 52.
Steve Kerr was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Arizona when his father was killed. Malcolm Kerr had resigned his position at UCLA, where he was head of the Political Science Dept., to pursue his truer passion.
The entire Kerr family still copes with the tragedy. The incident was of such magnitude that it was global news. And for a couple years after, Steve Kerr, a guard for the Wildcats, occasionally was subjected to ugly chants in opposing gyms.
Kerr persevered, becoming a star at Arizona and making his way into the NBA, where his career spanned 15 years and included five championships with two different franchises.
He found, along the way, men who influenced him in the way a father might have.
“Lute Olson, I spoke with him yesterday,” Kerr said. “That was pretty cool. I thanked him for putting me on this path. I didn’t even have a scholarship offer. He came in and gave me a chance. That started the whole path.
“I’ve been in touch with Pop and Phil, via text. I’m going to call them both today. But to be able to look back and think, man, look at all these people who have helped me get to this point. It’s pretty special.”
Steve Kerr has been a successful and popular TV analyst. And now he’s a world champion head coach. He wishes his father were around to witness it and share it.
“It’s been a long time, more than 30 years,” he said. “But every important moment in my life, I think of my dad. Marriage, kids being born, going to the Final Four in college, six NBA championships – he’s missed them all.”
In person, yes, though clearly not in spirit.