Steve Kerr's gun control speech inspired by dad's 1984 murder originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The worst pain a parent can endure is the loss of a child. And the same goes for children who lose a parent.
It’s simply indescribable.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr spoke to his own truth, when he responded to the tragic school shooting that unfolded in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.
In an NBA press conference, Kerr diverged from talking about his team’s opportunity to clinch a berth in the NBA Finals, and rather addressed the unspeakable events at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two adults dead.
“I’m not going to talk about basketball,” Kerr said in the press conference. “Any basketball questions don’t matter.”
Kerr chose to touch upon a subject that was bigger than basketball, having been impacted himself by gun violence when his father was shot by a gunman when Kerr was only 18 years old.
Malcolm Kerr’s 1984 assassination
Serving as president of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War often put a target on Kerr’s father. In 1984, Malcolm Kerr was assassinated by the militant group Islamic Jihad. A member of the group shot him twice in the head in the hallway leading to his office, killing him at the age of 52.
Born in Beirut to American parents who taught at AUB, Malcolm Kerr was educated in the U.S. and spent nearly two decades of his career teaching at UCLA, before he returned to Beirut and took over as president of AUB. However, his tenure leading the institution only lasted two years before he was brutally killed.
The elder Kerr took charge of the school during unsettling times. His predecessor, president David S. Dodge, was the victim of a kidnapping by pro-Iranian gunmen in 1982.
Steve Kerr’s life after tragedy
Following his father’s death in 1984, 18-year-old Steve Kerr had to process the sudden absence of his father.
Steve was born in Beirut on Sept. 27, 1965, but moved to California as a toddler. He attended the University of Arizona and built a considerable basketball career, which the younger Kerr has credited as helping in the grieving process of losing his father.
“Playing basketball took my thoughts away from what was going on,” he said in an interview with the New Yorker. “It helped me out. It gave me something to fall back into; it gave me some little time to relax.”
The eight-time NBA champion won five titles as a player -- three with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs -- and three so far with the Warriors as a head coach. Steve Kerr is the only NBA player to win four consecutive NBA titles after 1969. He has coached the Warriors since 2014, contributing to three championship wins, five conference titles and five division titles.
And it didn’t stop there. Steve Kerr not only used basketball as an outlet, but rather as a medium for instilling change. After shooting tragedies, he has often spoken on his experience grieving the impacts of gun violence.
“When my dad died, I was 18. I was still relatively a kid, just beginning to grow up, and it shaped the way I thought about the world and disillusioned me in many ways, and everything that’s happened since I’ve always had a big picture, global perspective in mind,” he said in an exclusive NBC Sports Bay Area interview in 2020.
Steve Kerr speaks in response to Uvalde, Texas, shooting
During Tuesday’s press conference, Kerr made his feelings clear: “Since we left shootaround, 14 children were killed 400 miles from here. And a teacher. And in the last 10 days we’ve had elderly Black people killed in a supermarket in Buffalo, we’ve had Asian church-goers killed in Southern California, and now we have children murdered at school.”
“When are we going to do something?” Kerr added as he pounded on the table in front of him. “I’m tired, I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there."
Kerr then directly questioned Senator Mitch McConnell and the rest of the United States Senate, asking when they are going to enact the necessary change to minimize these tragedies.
“Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our church-goers?” Kerr asked. “Because that’s what it looks like.
“We are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote, despite what we, the American people, want. They won’t vote on it because they want to hold on to their own power. It’s pathetic. I’ve had enough.”
Similar to his response to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., the Golden State coach did not hold back his emotions.
“I know what it feels like,” Kerr said in a town-hall-style meeting back in 2018. “I know how the Parkland families feel, or the Aurora families, or Sandy Hook.”
Four years ago, Kerr was devastated but hopeful that change could prevail after such terrible events. However, following this week’s tragedy in Texas, Kerr is no longer hopeful. He appeared angry and frustrated. He has long spoken about the trauma following the shooting of his own father, and as he said in the press conference, he has had enough.
“I want every person here, every person listening to this, to think about your own child or grandchild or mother or father, sister or brother. … How would you feel if this happened to you today?” Kerr said during Tuesday’s press conference.
“We can’t get numb to this,” he adds.