'The Last Dance' shows Warriors' Steve Kerr deeply open heart, soul

'The Last Dance' shows Warriors' Steve Kerr deeply open heart, soul

The look on Steve Kerr’s face when recalling the longest day of his life conveyed it all.

Pure agony, still, 36 years later.

Now, after Episode Nine of the national fixation that was ESPN’s “The Last Dance” on Sunday night, we are reminded of what many have known for decades, that behind Kerr’s bright blue eyes lies a level of pain and perseverance that can only be generated in the wake of unspeakable personal tragedy.

Moreover, Episode Nine gave anyone with a soul a better understanding of Kerr. His engagement in social issues, particularly his crusade against gun violence, comes from the most honest of experiences. Nothing grips quite as tight as that which strikes the heart.

What could hit harder than waking up in his dorm room at 3 a.m. and getting a phone call informing him that his father had been killed?

“He just said, ‘Steve, I have terrible news,’” Kerr, recalling the phone call from a family friend, said on documentary.

His voice cracked. His chin dropped. His eyes moistened.

“So ... yeah.”

The horrible events of Jan. 18, 1984 were etched on Kerr’s face, coming through the screen. Dr. Malcolm Kerr was assassinated, really, in Beirut by terrorists that didn’t care that he’d come to the Middle East as an educator. That he was attempting to do a good deed in a place he knew was exceedingly dangerous and particularly hostile to Americans.

Steve was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Arizona. Most of his family was in Beirut, with his father.

“I was still, relatively, a kid, just beginning to grow up,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area in 2018. “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 sort of had a big-picture, global perspective in life.”

Any parent that has lost a child to violence knows and understands. Any child that has lost a parent to violence knows and understands. Anyone who has lost a loved one to violence can bear witness to the suffering that follows. It lingers. Indefinitely.

Michael Jordan knows what it’s like. When his father, James Jordan, was murdered in 1993, it naturally shook MJ. Still does, to this day. But he grew up in the south, where gun culture is embraced. Which may explain why his dad’s death did not stir within the son a passion to rage against such crimes. Michael is, in case you’re new to the planet, different.

Kerr, to the contrary, grew up in an upper-middle-class family in Southern California yet is predisposed to activism. Education, politics and sports -- in that order -- dominated kitchen-table talk. Dr. Kerr was a professor of Middle East politics at UCLA. Fluent in Arabic, he wrote books on the subject. The Kerr family, Malcolm, Ann and their four children, moved often. Steve was born in Beirut and also lived in Egypt for three years.

“I was really lucky to grow up in a family that had a pretty wide view of the world,” Kerr said in 2018.

As drawn as Steve always was to matters affecting lives beyond his own and his family, his passion for activism escalated in the wake of his father’s death. Steve’s sensitivity toward others coping with tragedy is sincere, as is his desire to seek a path toward peace.

Promoting understanding and seeking peace were primary components of his father’s mission. In the 36 years since Malcolm Kerr died, his son has been a voice for progressive causes and equality, and a leading voice in the quest for sensible gun laws.

[RELATED: 'The Last Dance' confirms Kerr's message to 2018-19 Warriors]

Steve’s efforts draw praise in some quarters and no small amount of ridicule from America’s political right. He doesn’t care.

Malcolm Kerr has missed his middle son’s adult life. He did not see Steve rise from third-tier college recruit to All-Pac-10 status, from a 15-year NBA career that included five championship rings to a six-year coaching career with three more rings.

Steve Kerr’s basketball voyage has been incredible. One of his biggest regrets is that he has not been able to share a moment of it with his father.

So, the son is committed to doing what he can. He honors his father’s memory with actions his father would endorse. And one look at his face when reliving the loss of his father is enough to know how much it means to him.

How John Stockton ruined Steve Kerr's chances of going to Gonzaga

How John Stockton ruined Steve Kerr's chances of going to Gonzaga

Warriors coach Steve Kerr played his college ball at the University of Arizona.

Why didn't the eight-time NBA champion go to Gonzaga instead?

Well, there's a hilarious story that provides the answer. Kerr recently was a guest on the "Scorebook Live Today" podcast with former Gonzaga guard Dan Dickau, and shared the details.

"So they were recruiting me my senior year. And I didn’t have any offers in the middle of my senior year, but I was getting some interest," Kerr explained. "Gonzaga sent me a letter, made a couple calls and they said, ‘Hey, we want you to come on a visit when the season’s over.’ And I said, 'Great.' I was excited. It was my first visit anywhere.

"They said, ‘Just bring your stuff -- you can play when you’re up here.’ I said, 'Perfect.' And I go up and see the campus, see the locker room, meet the coaches -- all that stuff. And they said, ‘Hey, our guys are going to play pickup. You should go join them.’ I said, 'Perfect.'

"Put my shoes on. I joined the pickup game. And I’m being guarded by a guy named John Stockton (laughter). He had just finished his senior season. He was getting ready for the draft. I’m a senior in high school. And I knew who he was because I was a basketball fan, and growing up on the West Coast I had heard of him. But it was a different time back then. You didn’t have all the games on TV and everything. So, I didn’t know that much about him.

"John proceeded to wipe the floor with me. He stole the ball from me, he scored on me at will. It was a total embarrassment. They basically took me into the office and they said, 'You know, we’re, we’re going to go in a different direction (laughter).’ So I always blamed John Stockton for ruining my future at Gonzaga."

Now that's some funny stuff.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Fortunately for Kerr, it all worked out in the end. He had a fantastic career at Arizona as he helped lead the Wildcats to the 1988 Final Four.

And needless to say -- it must have been pretty sweet for Kerr to make the game-winning/series-clinching shot against Stockton and the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals.

[RELATED: Kerr credits Westbrook for one of his favorite quotes ever]

Before we go, we have to address one detail. Kerr's visit to Spokane must have been in the spring of 1983 because he graduated high school soon thereafter. This means that Stockton wasn't yet preparing for the NBA draft because he was the No. 16 overall pick in 1984.

Oh well. No big deal. The story still stands.

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2020 NBA Draft sleepers: Can Jaden McDaniels develop into Kevin Durant?

2020 NBA Draft sleepers: Can Jaden McDaniels develop into Kevin Durant?

Editor's note: As the Warriors prepare for the 2020 NBA draft, during which they will have a lottery pick for the first time since 2012, NBC Sports Bay Area will present a twice-weekly series spotlighting two players expected to be evaluated. This is the seventh of a 12-part series over the next six weeks.

The long and exceedingly lean physique is reminiscent of a Brandon Ingram or a Jonathan Isaac or a Chris Boucher. Or even a young Kevin Durant.

That the resume is as thin as frame partly explains why Jaden McDaniels is a bit of a sleeper. After one season at the University of Washington, there is a chance he’ll sneak into the lottery but it’s more likely he’ll be drafted later in the first round.

Potential is why McDaniels is on the radar of NBA teams, including the Warriors. If Golden State trades out of the top five and drops toward the middle of the draft, McDaniels likely will be available. His game is, at his best, is stellar.

McDaniels is as comfortable playing above the rim as pulling up from deep. Despite being 6-foot-10, he handles well enough to score off the dribble. In his collegiate debut, he scored 18 pounds, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots in an upset win over mighty Baylor.

Indeed, it is McDaniels’ combination of small forward finesse and power forward length that caught the attention of opposing coaches and NBA scouts.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Those scouts already knew McDaniels was a five-star prospect at Federal Way High in the Seattle area. They’d already seen the clips, including those in which McDaniels, perhaps bored, would finish in transition by lobbing balls off the backboard to himself for dunks.

They also glimpsed red flags. McDaniels was prone to turnovers. His shot selection was spotty. There was some inconsistency insofar as some nights McDaniels was the best player on the floor and other nights he was liability to the Huskies.

It also will concern front offices that McDaniels displayed fits of immaturity. That was a factor in him leading the Pac-12 Conference in technical fouls with six. He also fouled out eight times in 31 games. At one point of the season, McDaniels was benched by Huskies coach Mike Hopkins, who was displeased with a spate of fouls and poor judgment.

McDaniels is, in this regard, not unlike teenage Marquese Chriss, who struggled in his first three NBA seasons but exhibited clear signs of maturity after joining the Warriors last fall.

McDaniels, however, has a deeper basket of pure offensive skills and possesses the ability to defend at least three positions. The comps in most mock drafts – such as Ingram and Isaac – are not so much about what he is than about what he can be.

If McDaniels, the younger brother of Hornets guard Jalen McDaniels, matures nicely contains his emotions and adds 10-15 pounds to his frame there is a reasonable chance he can become a star. It’s rare that someone with his size/skill combination comes along.

[RELATED: Could Cassius Winston follow Draymond?]

Some team will be willing to take that chance. McDaniels is a longshot for the Warriors, but any play they make for him will come only after they’ve gone beyond the tantalizing gifts and come away convinced their culture can help him reach his ceiling.

Jaden McDaniels

Position: Forward
Class: Freshman
Birthdate: Sept. 29, 2000 (19)
Hometown: Federal Way, Wash.
2019-20 stats: 13.0 points (40.5 percent FG, 33.9 percent 3p, 76.3 percent FT), 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 blocks.
Height: 6-foot-10
Weight: 200
Wingspan: 7 feet
What they’re saying: “You know the funny thing is, and I don’t mean funny to make a joke, but only really good players can lead a league in (turnovers and fouls). You go take a look at the all-time leaders on those lists and it’s nothing but Hall of Famers. I say that to say, how good must Jaden be to where he’s giving you so much that it outweighs those things you don’t like? And the answer is, he’s really, really good. Now as a coach, you have to ask yourself: ‘What can I live with and how can we curb some of those erratic behaviors?’” – former Warriors coach and current NBA/NCAA analyst P.J. Carlesimo, to the Seattle Times.