The last time Steve Kerr was in Beirut, his birthplace, with the bombs pounding the runway and the assassination of his father six months away, he left by car.

The airport was closed. There was talk of taking a cruise ship to Cyprus, or accompanying an ambassador on a helicopter to Tel Aviv or even crossing into Israel on a bus. A military plane headed to Cairo had an empty seat, but it went to someone else. Finally, a hired driver took Kerr over the Lebanon Mountains and across the Syrian border to Damascus, then on to Amman, Jordan. It felt like an escape.

“I’m fearful that all this uncertainty and inconvenience, not to mention even a sense of physical danger, has not done Steve’s image of Beirut much good, and in his present mood he wonders what any of us are doing here,” his father, Malcolm H. Kerr, the president of the American University of Beirut, wrote to other family members that day in August 1983.

A few months later, Malcolm Kerr was shot twice in the back of the head outside his university office.

Steve Kerr was 18 then, quiet and sports-obsessed. He was a lightly recruited freshman at the University of Arizona, before it was a basketball power. It took a vivid imagination to see him becoming an N.B.A. champion as a player and a coach, now leading the Golden State Warriors.

But perhaps it should be no surprise that, at 51, Kerr has found his voice in public discourse, talking about much more than basketball: heavy topics like gun control, national-anthem protests, presidential politics and Middle East policy. With an educated and evenhanded approach, he steps into discussions that most others in his position purposely avoid or know little about, chewing through the gray areas in a world that increasingly paints itself in bold contrasts.

Photos of Malcolm H. Kerr, in the room he used as an office at the family’s home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Credit Emily Berl for The New York TimesPhoto by: Emily Berl for The New York Times

In many ways, he has grown into an echo of his father.

“The truly civilized man is marked by empathy,” Malcolm Kerr wrote in a foreword to a collection of essays called “The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective.” “By his recognition that the thought and understanding of men of other cultures may differ sharply from his own, that what seems natural to him may appear grotesque to others.”

In a rare and sometimes emotional interview this fall, Kerr spoke about the death of his father and his family’s deep roots in Lebanon and the Middle East. Some of the words sounded familiar.

“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at it from a bigger perspective,” he said. “We live in this complex world of gray areas. Life is so much easier if it could be black and white, good and evil.”

Kerr understands that. Sports are a diversion for most who follow them, “only meaningful to us and our fans,” he said. In a sports world that takes itself too seriously, that perspective is part of the appeal of Kerr and the Warriors. They won the 2015 N.B.A. championship, were runners-up last season and remain a top team this season. They seem to be having more fun than anyone else.

But Kerr also knows that sports are an active ingredient of American culture. He knows, as well as anyone, that players are complicated, molded by background, race, religion and circumstance.

Lebanese soldiers check the IDs and papers of students leaving American University of Beirut after the assassination of Malcolm H. Kerr in January 1984. Credit Peter Charlesworth/LightRocket, via Getty Images

And Kerr is, too: a man whose grandparents left the United States to work in the Middle East, whose father was raised there, whose mother adopted it, whose family has a different and broader perspective than most. The Kerrs are a family touched by terrorism in the most personal way. Malcolm Kerr was not a random victim. He was a target.

That gives Steve Kerr a voice. His job gives him a platform. You will excuse him if he has a few things to say.

“It’s really simple to demonize Muslims because of our anger over 9/11, but it’s obviously so much more complex than that,” he said. “The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people, just like the vast majority of Christians and Buddhists and Jews and any other religion. People are people.”

He delved into modern Middle East history, about World War II and the Holocaust and the 1948 creation of Israel, about the Six-Day War in 1967, about peace accords and the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Iraq War and the United States’ scattered chase for whatever shifting self-interest it has at any particular time.

“My dad would have been able to explain it all to me,” Kerr said. Instead, he absorbed it as a boy and applies it as an adult. “He at least gave me the understanding that it’s complex. And as easy as it is to demonize people, there’s a lot of different factors involved in creating this culture that we’re in now.”

The backyard of the Kerr family home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., has views of the Santa Monica Mountains from a broad patio. Credit Emily Berl for The New York TimesPhoto by: Emily Berl for The New York Times

Malcolm Kerr was a professor at U.C.L.A. for 20 years, and the sprawling ranch house where the family lived in Pacific Palisades, Calif., has a flat driveway and a basketball hoop bolted to the roof above the garage. Steve Kerr spent countless hours in the driveway practicing the shot that would give him the N.B.A. record for career 3-point percentage that still stands. But not all memories in the driveway are about basketball.

Read the full story here.


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