Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr had some straightforward advice for the overflow crowd of students eager to hear from him Wednesday night at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
“Be honest,” he said. “When you get a platform, more people ask you what you think. That’s where the power comes from. You get a microphone in front of you, then you can say things. Just being honest and open about things and speaking your minds, there’s a real power to that.”
Kerr, in town for Thursday night’s game against the Celtics at TD Garden, was invited to speak about the intersection of sports and activism in a conversation with professor Tommie Shelby.
Dressed in a gray sweater and black jeans, Kerr, with wife Margot sitting in the front row, explained how he has utilized his voice to call attention to matters outside of basketball.
“It’s kind of insane how many opportunities there are in front of the mic,” Kerr said. “I know how many people are watching. I know how many people are following the league. When you have a platform, you just know people are watching. I try to speak on things that are important with the idea that I know a lot of people are listening. If I’m authentic and genuine about my beliefs, people will recognize that. I think that alone makes it worthwhile.”
As for how he decides when to speak up, Kerr said it’s generally a personal decision. At the top of his list of social causes is education, as well as gun safety and control.
Kerr credits his worldly upbringing for shaping his current perspective. Much of his childhood was spent watching the evening news and meeting the friends of his father, Malcolm, who was a political scientist and professor at UCLA specializing in the Middle East.
Like his father, Kerr was born in Beirut. He has since lived in a number of cities, including a brief stint in Boston when his father spent a summer conducting research at Harvard. Among the other stops were Los Angeles, France, and a three-year stay in Cairo.
“That was my childhood, listening to a lot of political talk and being aware of what was going on in the world,” Kerr said. “I received this incredible education from an early age, just seeing the world and seeing people from all over, seeing different cultures, and experiencing them.”
After accepting a job at the American University of Beirut in 1982, Malcolm Kerr was assassinated two years later by members of a radical Islamic group. Kerr, who was a freshman at the University of Arizona at the time, said his father’s death has largely influenced his approach to life — and coaching.
“I try to impart this great balance,” he said. “The game itself, it’s a basketball game, it’s not really that big of a deal, not nearly as big as your family, your health, all those things. Yet everything is also so fragile. It can be taken away like that.”
Kerr, who won five NBA titles as a player and has three as a coach, stressed the importance of maximizing opportunities. With success comes power, he noted.
“We try to remind our guys to seize every opportunity and go for it and make the most of it,” he said. “The work that guys like Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson can do now, now that they have made it and they realize their power, it’s dramatic the difference they’re making in their communities.”
Other topics discussed included the NBA’s reputation as a progressive league, the role of Twitter in social discourse, and Curry’s impact on the game. After the hourlong session concluded, Kerr remained for roughly another hour to chat and pose for photos with students.