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Tragedy Made Steve Kerr See the World Beyond the Court

But talk around the house was more likely to involve the Dodgers or Bruins. Malcolm was a good athlete, a basketball player growing up and an avid tennis player until the end. He and Steve spent a lot of time at the high school hitting and fielding, and Malcolm sometimes joined Steve in the driveway.

“He was a lefty and had a nice hook shot,” Kerr said with a laugh.

Kerr credits his father for his demeanor on the sideline as an N.B.A. coach: calm and quiet, mostly, and never one to berate a player. Kerr was not always that way.

“When I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I had a horrible temper,” Kerr said. “I couldn’t control it. Everything I did, if I missed a shot, if I made an out, I got so angry. It was embarrassing. It really was. Baseball was the worst. If I was pitching and I walked somebody, I would throw my glove on the ground. I was such a brat. He and my mom would be in the stands watching, and he never really said anything until we got home. He had the sense that I needed to learn on my own, and anything he would say would mean more after I calmed down.”

His father, Kerr said, was what every Little League parent should be. The talks would come later, casual and nonchalant, conversations instead of lectures.

“He was an observer,” he said. “And he let me learn and experience. I try to give our guys a lot of space and speak at the right time. Looking back on it, I think my dad was a huge influence on me, on my coaching.”

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Steve Kerr, with the Chicago Bulls head coach, Phil Jackson, after the Bulls won the N.B.A. championship in June 1997.

Credit
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Kerr played for some of the best basketball coaches in history — Olson at Arizona, Phil Jackson with the Chicago Bulls and Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs among them. By the standards of basketball coaches, they were worldly men with interests far beyond the court.

“I remember Phil talking to the team about gun control, and asking the players: ‘How many of you have guns? How many of you know that if you have a gun in your house you’re more likely to have a fatality in your house?’” Kerr said. “It was a real discussion, with guys saying that we need to have some level of protection, because we are vulnerable in many ways, too.

“And I remember one presidential election, it was probably 2000, I was with the Spurs and we did two teams shooting — the silver team against the black team or whatever,” he said, referring to a drill run by Popovich. “Pop was like, ‘O.K., Democrats down there, Republicans down here.’ I think it was about 12 against two at that point, so he had to even up the teams a little bit. He would just make it interesting.”

Kerr — who has three children, all young adults, with his wife, Margot — has never talked about his father in front of the team, and Warriors players have only a vague notion of Kerr’s family history. It is context, mostly, an unstated part of his background.

“I really realized from Pop and Phil that I could use my experience as a kid and growing up to my advantage as a coach,” Kerr said. “And connect with players and try to keep that healthy perspective. Keep it fun, and don’t take it too seriously.”

It was during Kerr’s tenure with San Antonio that the family, after years of reflection following the 1996 passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, decided to sue Iran. The Kerrs came to believe that Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah had targeted him.

“I didn’t need revenge, I didn’t need closure,” Steve Kerr said. “So I was indifferent to the lawsuit. But then I recognized that it was important to a couple of members of my family, my sister and my younger brother, in particular.”

When it came time to testify in United States District Court in Washington in December 2002, Kerr was with the Spurs, in the last of his 15 seasons in the N.B.A. He did not want to miss games.

“There’s nobody better than Pop to talk about something like this,” Kerr said. “I told him, ‘I don’t really want people knowing what it is.’ I didn’t want the attention. But I also don’t want people thinking I’m injured. So Pop said: ‘You missed two games for personal reasons. Big deal. Your reputation precedes you. Nobody is going to question what’s going on with you.’ And he was right. I told my teammates and nothing ever really came of it.”

He testified in a nearly empty courtroom, missing two Spurs’ road games on the West Coast. The Kerrs learned two months later that they had won the suit — millions of dollars that they may never see. But money was never the point.

“It provides a structure to enable people to channel their feelings through justice and the rules of law, rather than become vigilantes,” his sister, who is now known as Susan van de Ven, said in a phone interview from England, where she is involved in politics as a county councillor. “It gives a very focused approach to people who are rightly and insanely aggrieved. That’s the kind of culture we should have. We shouldn’t be responding with violence. I’m sure that’s why Steve talked about guns. It’s all related, isn’t it?” Her book detailed the family’s experience with the lawsuit.

The night before the Warriors visited President Obama to celebrate their 2015 N.B.A. championship, Steve had dinner with Andrew, who works for an architectural design and residential builder in Washington. They discussed what Steve might say to the president. Andrew recommended complimenting him on his efforts toward gun control. Kerr did.

In June, at the end of a podcast with Bay Area sports columnist Tim Kawakami, Kerr asked if he could raise one more topic. Our government is “insane,” he said, not to adopt stronger background checks on guns that most Americans agree upon.

“As somebody who has had a family member shot and killed, it just devastates me every time I read about this stuff, like what happened in Orlando,” Kerr said, referring to the June massacre at a Florida nightclub. “And then it’s even more devastating to see the government just cowing to the N.R.A. and going to this totally outdated Bill of Rights, right to bear arms. If you want to own a musket, fine. But come on.”

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