Steve Kerr visits UC Berkeley to share his thoughts on basketball and social issues

By Nate Rosenbloom | @hibernature

In front of a packed house at Zellerbach Auditorium, Steve Kerr sat down to chat with outgoing UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in the first installment of the "Berkeley Talks" series this school year. The two spoke for an hour in a wide-ranging conversation that was frequently interrupted by vigorous rounds of applause from the audience. Kerr was in fine form, showing off his well-known wit, intelligence and humor, mixed in with some more serious and profound moments.

While there was plenty of talk about basketball, the most poignant portion of the evening came when Dirks asked Kerr to elaborate on his comments from earlier that day on Kaepernick and the current situation facing the country. Kerr spoke at length about his belief in the value of non-violent protest and the value in actions such as Kaepernick's in sparking a conversation. Kerr made a point of clarifying that he understands both sides of the debate and could understand both why people see Kaep's actions as disrespectful to the flag and, on the other side, why others do not believe the flag represents them (as Kaep has said). He went on to say that when the Warriors begin practice next Tuesday (9/27), the team will have a conversation about the National Anthem and discuss what actions, if any, each player wants to take when the season starts.

Kerr said he will allow players to do what they feel is right, but that it's important to have the conversation because the actions of one player affect the players next to him. He added that he is proud to be a part of the NBA and feels that the league has done well to take on a leadership position on important issues faced by society.

On the lighter side, Kerr had the crowd laughing on several occasions sharing stories from his playing days with legendary coaches Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich as well as from the last two seasons leading the Golden State Warriors. 

On Jackson, Kerr described him as a unique kind of person and shared that once after the team lost two consecutive games Jackson walked through the locker room burning incense to "get rid of the bad spirits." 

On Popovich, Kerr described him as the "complete opposite person from Jackson" in terms of personality, but that the two shared almost identical world views. Kerr recounted a practice during the run up to the 2000 presidential election in which Pop split the team up into Republicans vs Democrats. Following practice, the team watched the Presidential debate together. Kerr said he learned from both Popovich and Jackson the importance of keeping things in perspective and realizing that there is a lot going on the world outside of basketball.

Kerr also shared about his family and childhood and connection to UC Berkeley. He was born in Beirut and spent much of his childhood between Cairo and Beirut. Kerr's father, Malcolm, was a professor and scholar in Middle East Politics. Malcolm Kerr was serving as President of the American University in Beirut in 1984 when he was assassinated outside his office. Steve shared how proud he is of his family for persevering through that dark time and going on to achieve great things in life (Kerr's three siblings all hold PH.Ds and are active in academia).

Steve now has a family of his own and shared an anecdote about how his daughter, Maddie, selected UC Berkeley. It was a story that all Cal fans and alumni will appreciate. The family visited both Stanford and Cal over the course of a weekend. When asked which she preferred, Maddie chose Cal. Her reason? "Its real and grimy," she explained.

By the end of the night, it was clear that Steve Kerr and his entire family love Cal, Berkeley, and the entire Bay Area. Kerr also proved he is an incredibly articulate and engaging personality that I hope stays in the Bay Area for a long time to come.