In his role as an NBA player and in his second career as an NBA head coach, Steve Kerr is accustomed to coming out on top. His career has been a study in applied will against unlikely odds.
He was the 50th player selected in the 1988 draft as an undersized combo guard who could shoot at an elite level but didn’t have any other NBA skills beyond his grit, brains and willingness to never back down from a fight, no matter how overwhelming the opponent. The shiner Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan gave him in a legendary David vs. Goliath training camp scrap just one bit of evidence.
But Kerr took those qualities and defied the odds by carving out a 14-year NBA career where he was a key member of five different championship teams. He retired as the most accurate three-point shooter in league history (45.4 per cent) and one of the most respected players in the game.
Conversely, as a coach, Kerr has always worked from a position of strength since joining the Golden State Warriors to help launch their dynastic run in 2014-15, but he’s made the most of it, helping usher a new style of play with his history-making team.
With the Warriors on the verge of closing out the Dallas Mavericks, Kerr is about to guide the Warriors to their sixth NBA Finals where they will be looking for their fourth title.
But Kerr is not content with that. He’s not okay with simply collecting his rings and accolades.
He is the son of a father lost to gun violence, and even as his profile has grown as the face of one of the highest-profile franchises in sports, he’s used the platform to speak out in favour of social justice causes he believes in, none more passionately than the need for the United States to do something about the scourge of gun violence that all too routinely leaves a nation with the blood of innocents on its collective hands.
It was never more evident than when Kerr took the podium on Tuesday, prior to what turned out to be a loss to the Mavericks.
The pre-game addresses with the media are typically mundane affairs where lineup and injury issues are addressed.
But Kerr, speaking in Dallas, just a few hours' drive from where an 18-year-old with a legally-obtained automatic weapon opened fire in a primary school — murdering 19 students and two adults — took to the microphone with the kind of raw emotion you rarely see from public figures.
It was fitting for the moment, as Kerr captured in his quivering, visceral rage the feelings of so many who see or read or hear about another mass shooting and wonder: Why?
“When are we going to do something?” said Kerr, in a clip that quickly went viral. “I'm tired. I'm so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I'm so tired. Excuse me. I'm sorry. I'm tired of the moments of silence. Enough.”
In this, Kerr was borrowing from one of his coaching mentors, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who has used his platform to speak out on social issues, creating the space for others in the NBA community to follow suit.
But few have done so with the passion Kerr demonstrated, with his seething outburst striking the perfect tone for so many who feel so helpless and so mad in front of what seems to be a problem no one seems determined to solve.
It was far from the first time Kerr has used his platform to speak out against gun violence. In his comments Tuesday he referenced the shooting in a Buffalo grocery store last week that left 10 dead and another shooting at a church in Southern California that left one dead and five others injured. His comments came just barely a year after he made a pre-game address with the names of the victims of two mass shootings – in Atlanta and Boulder – displayed on the background behind him.
Mass shootings are not a uniquely US problem – in Canada the deaths of 22 Nova Scotians in April of 2020, six worshippers in the Quebec City Mosque attacks in 2017 or the 14 female engineering students at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, among other incidents, bear witness to that – but there is nowhere mass shootings have become a more common occurrence. Even shootings at schools have become all too frequent, with Sandy Hook, Parkland, Columbine and now Uvalde having entered the lexicon.
Kerr’s impassioned comments were not without purpose. In a country with 120 guns for every 100 residents (compared with 34 for every 100 in Canada) and deep belief in gun rights held by so many, making mass shootings and or even school shootings a thing of the past has proven a tall order.
But Kerr chose to use his platform to target one seemingly achievable goal – the passing of legislation that would require background checks for gun purchases across the United States. He called out the Republican-controlled Senate, who have so far refused to vote on the bill, first introduced in 2019, and in particular Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell for playing politics on an issue that has life-and-death consequences.
"I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings – I ask you, 'Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers?',” Kerr asked.
So far the answer has been evident, as the shootings mount, the tears flow and the anger rages, but nothing changes.
Sadly and tragically, it’s hard to imagine anything will this time, if the past is any guide.
But Kerr is used to doing amazing things against long odds. His more than 30-year career in the NBA is proof.
Americans – and anyone from anywhere that cares about gun violence – are lucky he’s still willing to be that person.