This is the opening section of an article that appears on the Nothing But Nylon website.
By Ed Odeven
Veteran sportswriter Scott Howard-Cooper didn’t need to travel to distant lands or exotic locales to settle on a subject for his new book.
The subject of his compelling book did, however, spend large chunks of his formative years outside of the United States. “Steve Kerr: A Life” connects the dots between his upbringing, his fierce competitive drive as an athlete, family tragedy, personal success in high school and at the University of Arizona, his early NBA career before landing with the Chicago Bulls, and the dream-come-true experiences of winning three titles with the Bulls and two more with the San Antonio Spurs.
Above all, Kerr is a people person who rarely takes himself too seriously, and self-deprecating humor is a recurring theme throughout the well-paced book. The author shares an abundant mix of rich anecdotes about Kerr’s deep affection for his family and friends and his close bond with teammates across the decades during his high school, college and pro days as a player.
Kerr’s natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge about every aspect of the game shines through as recounted by Howard-Cooper in passages about coaches Lute Olson, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Lenny Wilkens, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, as well as UCLA legend John Wooden, whose basketball camps Kerr frequented as a kid.
In a concise primer on the eight-time NBA title winner’s early years, Howard-Cooper wrote: “In his nearly sixteen years, Kerr had lived in the United States, the Middle East, Europe, and, counting months-long vacations, northern Africa. He had seen additional lands from car windows, played basketball on dirt courts against men, and been uprooted enough times to either build resilience or lose the stability kids cherish, or both.”
Howard-Cooper traces the Kerr family’s ties to Lebanon decades before his birth and his parents’ deep love of the land and Middle Eastern cultures.
The book’s first chapter (“Beirut”) gives a helpful introduction to his parents’ families history, including the circumstances of how and where Steve’s parents, Malcolm Kerr and Ann Ann Zwicker, met. In 1954, Ann spent her junior year abroad at American University in Beirut, where her future husband was working toward his master’s in Middle East studies.
Malcolm Kerr, whose career in academia included stints at UCLA and the American University in Cairo, became president of the American University in Beirut in 1982, when the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) was ongoing. On January 18, 1984, Kerr was shot to death by two terrorists who attacked him outside his office on campus.
Howard-Cooper quotes from Ann’s diary in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination and dedicates ample space to describing the family’s outpouring of grief on multiple continents. At the time, Steve was a freshman at the University of Arizona.
Providing historical context to the elder Kerr’s tragic death, U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s statement hours later is published in the book. In part, Reagan said, “His work strengthened the historical, cultural, and academic ties between the United States and Lebanon and other countries of the Middle East. Dr. Kerr carried on a family tradition ー he himself was born in Beirut to parents also dedicated to the service of mankind.”
One of this writer’s favorite sections of the book is the details of Kerr’s performance against Arizona State on January 20, 1984. Being with his teammates was cathartic for Steve just a couple days after his father’s death, and Kerr entered the game with 12:58 left in the opening half on that Friday night in Tucson.
The story of that game, only a few months into Kerr’s freshman season, gives a glimpse of his emotional toughness, competitive fire and love for the game. Olson wasn’t certain, though, if Kerr would be able to compete due to the heartbreaking circumstances that he and his family were dealing with. “I was worried for him,” Olson was quoted as saying.
“But when Kerr got the ball for the first time eighteen seconds after entering the game, and only a few minutes after crying through the memorial for the wonderful man he would miss forever he moved on instinct. The twenty-five footer swished,” Howard-Cooper wrote. “The crowd erupted in a frenzy ー ‘an explosion of sound,’ Olson called it. The next shot, from fifteen feet, splashed through the net the same way.”
Read the full book review here.