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Like His Father

The Grace and Conscience of Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr and his Golden State Warriors may have fallen short of capping their magical 2015-2016 season with a second consecutive NBA Championship, but his recent comments about the mass shooting in Orlando demonstrate his strong character and global perspective better than any coaching victory.

Of course this comes as no surprise to me, because I knew his father, Dr. Malcolm Kerr.

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When I attended U.C.L.A. for my undergraduate degree I was a political science major focusing on Middle East studies.

Malcolm was my favorite professor, and he ultimately became a very close friend and mentor.

I would go to Malcolm’s office after class and talk about a variety of topics, both related and unrelated to my course load.  I just loved listening to the man.

He was one of the top academics in the world on Middle East studies and his credentials were impressive to say the least – an undergraduate degree from Princeton, in 1953; a masters from American University in Beirut, in 1955; a Ph.D in Advanced International Studies from Johns Hopkins in 1958; post-doctorate work at Oxford in 1959; a professor at U.C.L.A. from 1962 to 1982, where he served as chairman of the Department of Political Science, and as Dean of the Department of Social Sciences; fluent in Arabic; and author of seven books on Middle Eastern history and politics.

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From L.A. to D.C. to Beirut

Malcolm was a titan in his field, and during the late 1970’s, there were numerous times during the school year where classes would have to be canceled because he had been called to the White House to advise the president and cabinet on a burgeoning or ongoing Middle Eastern crisis.

Yet, with all of his commitments and responsibilities, he wrote me a letter of recommendation that helped me gain acceptance into law school.  I was elated and honored.

Shortly after I had graduated with my J.D., Malcolm left U.C.L.A. after 20 years of unparalleled success and acclaim, to become the President of American University in Beirut Lebanon.

This was his dream job because he was essentially going home – Malcolm’s parents had taught at the American University in Beirut for 40 years; Lebanon was his birthplace and he had spent the better part of his childhood and graduate studies on and around the campus.

I remember from our conversations that he was intent on giving back to the people of the Middle East, whom he had spent his life studying, and he was committed to making AUB a beacon of inclusive, progressive educational opportunity in the region, especially for Arabic people.

Malcolm’s steadfast belief was that only through education and mutual understanding could a healthy, lasting peace be achieved. These were his ideals and he lived his life accordingly.

Tragically, on January 18, 1984, members of Islamic Holy War, who were equally steadfast in eliminating the presence of any Westerner, assassinated Malcolm in the hallway just outside of his office. He was 52 years old.

The academic world mourned the loss of a revered colleague and friend, who had dedicated his life to improving the lives of others on a global scale, and ironically, the people who needed his voice of compassion and reason, most of all, were responsible for his murder.

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Not surprisingly, Malcolm’s second son, Steve, who was a scholarship freshman for the University of Arizona basketball team under Lute Olson on that fateful day, inherited Malcolm’s competitive nature and empathetic world view.

Following the tragedy in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016, during which a hate-filled gunman killed 49 people in a gay nightclub, the NBA held a moment of silence for the victims and their families prior to the tip-off of Game 5 of the Finals.

Just before Game 6, the fine journalist Mr. Farid Farid, who was writing an article about Malcolm for The New Yorker, caught up to Steve to ask him about his thoughts during that moment of silence.

According to Farid’s article, Steve said he had thought about his dad, and reflected, “It’s very personal, because you’ve gone through it,” he said. “You understand how much they are suffering, just like how our family went through that suffering. When you think of it, all of these statistics have names and these names have faces. They are people who are now lost.”

I can hear Malcolm in Steve’s words, and I’m quite certain Malcolm would be exceedingly proud of his son Steve – A five time NBA Champion as a player, Head Coach of the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, NBA Coach of the Year for 2016, and a true citizen of the world.

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To see Mr. Farid’s entire article please go to:

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/steve-kerr-and-his-mother-talk-about-the-legacy-of-his-fathers-assassination

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