Last Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors were still one win away from the NBA Finals, still only dreaming of a championship quest that officially begins Thursday night against the Celtics. But that day, in the hours before the Warriors would tip off against the Mavericks, Steve Kerr had no interest in talking about basketball.
It didn’t matter that Kerr’s Warriors held a commanding 3-0 lead over Dallas in the Western Conference finals, didn’t matter that his team had already conducted its morning shootaround, didn’t matter that Kerr was oh-so-close to a return to the Finals for the first time since 2019 or that his surging Warriors seemed destined to complete a sweep.
All that mattered to Kerr was the murder of children and teachers that afternoon at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, 350 miles across the state from where Game 4 was about to be played. All that mattered to Kerr was releasing some of the inner torment he has carried with him since he was a teenager, speaking up and speaking out against the scourge of gun violence, exposing the frustration and pain that has simmered beneath his smooth surface for decades.
Please. Kerr delivered an impassioned speech instead.
Steve Kerr’s pregame presser in Dallas. Gives another emotional plea for gun control. pic.twitter.com/aPYpFIInAq— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 24, 2022
For all his bona fides in the NBA — five-time champion as a player, three-time champion coach — Kerr has made it clear he is not going to stick to sports.
Increasingly, as Kerr speaks, others follow. He may be known for leading a team of basketball Warriors on the court, but off it he has evolved into the leader of another team, one that is increasing its numbers day by day, these social justice warriors who no longer see sports as a separate entity offering escape from real-world issues, but as an intersecting entity in which their public voices can cut through the noise in ways others cannot.
Kerr, 56, has moved into the center of that group, using the weight of his own life, and the perspective he fought through so much anger and pain to gain, to earn the resonance that accompanies his words.
“Every word that he said was powerful, was meaningful, and I accept that challenge of trying to figure out a way to use my voice and my platform to make change,” is what Stephen Curry said after Kerr’s impromptu sermon. “You could tell what it meant to him to come up in front of you all and say what he says. I appreciate his leadership on that. He’s been doing that since I’ve known him.”
If you somehow missed it, there Kerr was last week, choking back tears, slamming the table, and eventually walking away from the microphone after practically spitting out his conclusion: “I’ve had enough.”
Angered by politicians who refuse to vote on a longstanding bill to bolster background checks for gun buyers, broken by the sights of carnage in Uvalde, wrought by yet one more lone shooter with an AR-15, and emboldened by a life forever changed when his own father was gunned down by assassins while working for the American University in Beirut in 1984, Kerr shook with emotion.
“When are we going to do something?” he said. “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!”
He was far from finished.
“We’re going to play the game tonight. But I want every person here, every person listening to this, to think about your own child or grandchild, or mother or father, sister, brother. How would you feel if this happened to you today?
“We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and go, ‘Well, let’s have a moment of silence — yeah, go Dubs. Come on, Mavs, let’s go.’
“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go play a basketball game. Fifty senators in Washington are going to hold us hostage. Do you realize that 90 percent of Americans, regardless of political party, want background checks — universal background checks? Ninety percent of us. 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 onto their own power. It’s pathetic! I’ve had enough!”
From there, other voices followed. The Yankees and Rays limited their game-night Twitter feeds to statistics on gun violence. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler wrote a public explanation for why he would remain in the locker room during the national anthem, citing sadness with “the direction of the country,” though he chose to suspend his protest on Memorial Day, when he stood on the field with his hand over his heart.
But it is Kerr who seems to get every conversation started. As the NBA Finals approach, the court of basketball opinion may put him on the wrong side of the verdict of every Celtics fan, and that’s how it should be. But in the court of public opinion, Kerr, more than ever, should be heard.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.