Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan

S2 E8 | FULL EPISODE

Steve Kerr

Winner of eight NBA titles — five as a player and three as a coach — Steve Kerr has led an exceptional life in basketball, both on the court and on the sidelines. In this episode he sits down to discuss his family history, his untraditional path to the NBA, his coaching career, and his political activism.

AIRED: November 23, 2021 | 0:26:13
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TRANSCRIPT

We had done probably three moments of silence

during that season.

It was like every couple of weeks, you know,

let's take a bow and stay silent,

and not actually try to solve the problem.

And so I just felt like, you know,

I do have a platform.

I should probably say something.

And I've been an advocate ever since.

♪♪♪

♪♪♪

Corrigan, voice-over: One life can hold a lot--

playing soccer in the streets of Cairo,

taking a pass from Michael Jordan

to make the shot that wins the championship,

taking a call at 3 A.M.

to learn that your father's been shot dead

in the hall outside his office,

watching a president thank your mother

or another president salute your team

or another president call you a scared, little boy.

Now, when you ask someone with this much life experience

for his thoughts, you shouldn't be surprised

when he gives you a real answer.

I'm Kelly Corrigan.

This is "Tell Me More," and here is my conversation

with player, coach, and citizen Steve Kerr.

Corrigan: We go to Warriors games,

and often we go an hour and a half early

just to watch you guys warm up.

Like, there's something really magical

about people's routines, and you are sort of famous

for having a really great pre-warm-up routine,

like, that you put yourself through a lot of paces.

I think most players in the NBA

once they kind of figure out what they're doing,

they develop a routine.

There's something very comforting

in having a daily ritual that you go through,

and you develop that as you go.

As you learn different drills,

you learn different ideas,

so you kind of develop your own unique warm-up

and routine, and then I think

it's really important kind of to feel prepared,

to feel ready. Yeah.

It's like actors talk about what it feels like

to put on the clothes of their character

and tie the shoes and stuff,

like there is this way

of stepping into yourself

and convincing yourself, maybe, that you can do

this kind of crazy thing that you're doing.

Yeah. I think that was

definitely the case early on.

I had a little bit of imposter syndrome

while I was out there. Sure.

You know, I did not have a natural-born confidence.

It was sort of an upset that I even made it

to the NBA, really.

You know, I didn't have a scholarship offer

coming out of high school.

I wasn't supposed to play in the NBA,

and so when it happened, had to kind of

convince myself that I belong.

Man, on P.A.: Steve Kerr!

I would literally picture myself

in other players' shoes.

I could be like that guy, or I could be like that guy.

There weren't that many guys

I could be like, unfortunately.

Do you still love basketball?

Oh, yeah. It's my life.

I mean, it's my whole career,

and there's something really pleasing

about making a shot.

The ball goes through the net,

and it's the sound of the shoes

squeaking on the floor,

and I just fell in love with it right away.

You used to play with your dad in the driveway.

Mm-hmm. We used to go to UCLA games.

That's where I fell in love with the game.

My dad was a professor at UCLA,

and that was when UCLA was in their heyday.

John Wooden was coaching.

They were winning national championships every year,

and so I remember my first trip to Pauley Pavilion.

Sold out, band is playing.

Players are running out onto the floor,

and, you know, I'm 5 years old, and I walked in.

I was like, "Oh, my God, this is heaven."

"This is me." Yeah.

"This is what I want to do." Yeah.

So your mom said that your greatest accomplishment

was learning to control your temper.

[laughing] Probably true.

It is?

Yeah.

I don't know why but from the very earliest age

if I didn't win I just felt like such a failure.

And I hated it so much

and I was so hard on myself that that's what

drove me, too. And so it was, you know,

it was a good thing in the end.

But I did have to learn how to control it.

When you were playing for the Bulls,

somebody said that things got better

just when you stepped on the court

because you were just enough of a threat

that the defense had to do something

about you being there, that they couldn't

just completely cover Jordan or Pippen.

How did you think about yourself

in terms of what value you could add to that team?

Chicago is where I actually felt like,

"OK, you know. I belong."

It was my fifth season.

I had bounced around a little bit before that.

You know, I found a great role playing

for Phil Jackson and Tex Winter

and their offense.

It was a perfect fit for me, the triangle offense,

and then playing with Jordan and Pippen, you know,

two of the greatest players ever,

it was an amazing ride to play on that team.

Even though Jordan's sort of famously hotheaded.

No. That was all part of it.

The NBA basketball competition

is as intense as any competition in the world...

Yeah.

and if you're in the NBA,

you come to realize quickly it's about winning.

The intimidating tactics from Michael

were all part of it, and it didn't bother

those of us who could handle it,

but that was part of Michael's strategy.

He felt like if you couldn't handle that in practice,

you weren't going to handle the pressure of a playoff game.

Do you yell at your players?

Not often.

So you don't think it's effective

for your team now.

It's different now.

It is important that my team knows

I can go off the handle once in a while.

Yeah. I feel like that about parenting.

Right? It is. Right.

My father-in-law used to say, "Get your bluff in early."

Like, bring down the hammer once,

and they won't do it.

No. I totally agree.

I think, you know, one of the reasons

I loved Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich

so much is, they reminded me of my dad

because there was, like, this unconditional love

and yet tiny, little bit of fear, you know,

like I didn't want to disappoint them,

and they carried a big stick,

so I think it is like being a good parent.

If you don't sort of drop that hammer

once in a while, then you're going to lose your authority.

So you're a person who's given

a lot of thought to culture.

What was the culture like at the Bulls?

It was an amazing culture built by Phil Jackson.

He was a genius coach.

I think what I found was,

with Phil, he was really unique.

He was very different.

He incorporated a lot of Native American

storytelling and art and wisdom in his coaching.

He was the first coach I'd ever had

who had the internal confidence and background

to do stuff like that.

It was really authentic from Phil.

He believed in meditation.

He believed in spirituality as a team.

He called us his tribe,

so you actually felt like you were part of a tribe.

You felt like you were part of a community

and you had this quest.

You had this goal to win a championship,

and it was beautiful to walk into that gym every day

with the guys on this journey,

an amazing time.

Do you love Michael Jordan?

Love Michael Jordan. Are you kidding me?

Like you guys would just have a big, old time

if you went to dinner.

Yeah, so, like, we see each other

once every year or two, maybe at the All-Star Game,

and it's an immediate talk about the old days

and, "How's Scottie doing? How's Luc Longley doing?"

and it's a very small, little club.

Like, yeah, we were NBA champions.

Yes, and you two have

this very small, little moment.

He gave you this pass

at the very end of the NBA finals.

Yeah. Did you want it?

I convinced myself that I wanted it.

Honestly, like, early in my career,

I was afraid of missing the last shot.

When that game happened and that play happened,

I was telling myself, you know, "You're going to get it.

"Let it go. You just let it fly.

Let it fly."

What does that feel like?

The place must've gone bananas.

Yeah. Yeah. It's indescribable.

To make a shot of that importance

in the NBA finals and the home crowd going crazy,

it was the seminal moment of my career.

It was kind of, in my own mind,

sort of validated my place in the league,

but I did that a million times in my driveway,

and so to actually experience that

in the NBA finals was incredible.

Tell me about your dad.

Oh, man.

It's kind of hard for me to talk about still.

Malcolm Kerr, president of the American University of Beirut,

was murdered at close range outside his campus office

by two men with a silencer-equipped pistol.

Kerr: He was a wonderful man--

quiet, very funny,

great way with people.

He was just an amazing dad

who was there for all the 4 of us

throughout our childhood, and we were just

unbelievably lucky to have him.

Your dad's dream job was to be the president

of the American University in Beirut.

It was this dream job.

He grew up in Beirut and went to the university.

And he met your mom there

and you guys had a whole childhood there.

Yeah, and I just think it was too big

of a pull for both my dad and my mom.

Even though the person who had done it

right before him had been kidnapped

and embassies had been bombed

and barracks had been bombed.

Why do you think they assassinated him?

He was the most prominent American

in Beirut at that time,

and it was the early part of terrorism

against Americans in the Middle East,

so you remember the Iran hostage situation was 1979.

The worst incident was the bombing

of the Marine barracks.

I think 300 Marines were killed

in this huge truck bomb in Beirut.

My dad, I remember, he was in his office,

which was, you know, on campus

5 miles away, 6 miles away, and he said he heard

this enormous blast and felt,

you know, the impact of it, oh, 5 miles away,

and the embassy cleared out,

but the university was still functioning,

so my dad became one of the most prominent

Americans remaining, and so he became a target.

I think he took that job when I was 16.

Mm-hmm.

You know, when you're 16, your dad's not gonna die.

You know, your mom's not gonna die.

Like, everything's going to be fine.

If you've lived a life like I did

where perfect upbringing, wonderful family,

and got everything you need,

nothing's going to happen to you.

That happens to other people,

you know, and so looking back,

sometimes I think I wish I'd been a little wiser

in terms of maybe bringing all that stuff up.

Tell me about the last time you saw him.

Didn't he come see you at college?

Yeah. Last time I saw him was on campus.

We spent the weekend together

and, you know, went to the football game,

and he slept in my dorm.

He watched me practice.

It was a weekend visit,

and I thought there'll be another one of those soon,

and couple months after that was when he was killed.

And somebody called you in your dorm room.

Were you by yourself?

I was by myself,

probably 3:00 in the morning,

and somebody from the university called me,

a family friend, to tell me the news.

I sort of can't believe

someone didn't come to your door.

Like, what did you do when you hung up?

I went outside and started crying

and walking the streets, didn't know what to do,

and finally went back to my dorm,

and one of my coaches came to the room.

I think we went out and went to a diner

or something and just sat in a diner and talked.

It was obviously a terrible night.

But a night where you learned how important

a coach can be in a person's life.

Yeah, and that was kind of my salvation,

was, you know, the team and playing basketball

and being able to be around all my guys.

Man: 3 for Steve Kerr. That is his fourth 3-pointer.

Corrigan: So this team thing is kind of interesting

when you look at the difference between the NBA

when you joined and where it is today

because it's a little harder

to, like, hold a team together

and have this set of people

that become family to each other.

Mm-hmm.

Do you think that the business for an individual

of being a professional athlete is kind of at odds

with the beauty that sports can offer a person?

It is. It's one of the most difficult things to do

as a coach in the NBA, is convince your players

to commit to the greater good and at the same time,

"Oh, by the way, we might cut you or trade you

at any moment..."

Or you might get fired.

"or I could get fired, and you have a new coach,"

and so there's kind of this contract

that you sign, like, a metaphorical contract

that you sign when you get to the NBA

where you understand it.

You know, the rewards are enormous, you know?

You can make more money than you'll ever make in your life,

and you could have incredible glory and joy,

and the flip-side is, you could get hurt.

You could get booed. You could get cut.

You could get traded, so it's a really sort of

bizarre, little world that we live in.

I mean, I feel like everybody has

this new work that's been assigned to them

by social media, which is to be

a gatekeeper of your own mind.

Like, what are you letting in,

and what are you blocking out?

Athletes today have it harder

than we ever had it by far.

I walk in at halftime--

and this is every coach in the NBA--

every guy's on his phone.

Really? Yeah.

The danger is, you have all that judgment

and criticism at your fingertips,

and I don't know how to survive in that bubble

with all that criticism and judgment

and anger coming at you all the time

and still be able to function and play at a high level.

It's incredible.

You know, I write books, and they say, like,

"Never read the bad stuff

and never read the good stuff."

Yeah. Yeah.

Like, actually, both sides are problematic

because they're so weighted with judgment.

Yeah. Yeah.

I quit Twitter maybe 5 months ago.

Thank you. It's a huge achievement.

Wow. Let's all do it. Yeah.

I did it with James Wiseman, our rookie.

You know, he was having a rough season,

and he was taking some criticism,

and I asked him, "Are you reading stuff?"

He goes, "Yeah," and I said, "How's it feeling?"

He goes, "Feels lousy," so I said to James,

"What do you think? Let's quit together,"

so we did it, and I just realized I don't need this.

I think this is actually much healthier,

but I also understand I'm probably neglecting

some of my duty as a citizen to make people

aware of what's happening out there.

In that year-- the 73 year,

the bad back year-- shortly after the season,

there was a shooter who went to UCLA--

it's, like, half a mile from your mom--

and then shortly after that,

the Pulse shooting happened,

and you made a big statement.

Do you remember it?

Mm-hmm. Yeah, and the reason I made it

is because we had done probably

3 moments of silence during that season.

It was like every couple of weeks,

just, you know, "Let's take a bow

"and stay silent

and not actually try to solve the problem,"

and so I just felt like,

you know, I do have a platform.

I should probably say something,

and I've been an advocate ever since.

Because my dad died that way

and because it's such an enormous problem

in our country, that's become

my sort of pet project.

Do you have hope that there'll be

new legislation, that there'll be--

I do have hope mainly because

of the March For Our Lives kids.

There are so many young people now

who are so angry and invested.

What makes me lose hope is just that it's

a constant deal with the Senate

where, you know, the House passes H.R. 8,

which is, you know, background checks bill

that 90% of Americans want background checks

regardless if you're a Democrat

or Republican, 90%.

People in the NRA want background checks.

Yeah, but the Senate will not go down that path.

They won't even look at the bill

because of partisan politics,

and, you know, they put their own private career

ahead of the lives of American people.

We have a thing at "Tell Me More"

which is asking each guest to point

to someone who's been an inspiration to them

or has helped shaped their thinking

in an important way,

and you picked a guy named Pastor Mike.

Mm-hmm. Tell us about him.

Pastor Mike McBride, incredible human being.

He's a pastor in Oakland

who does a lot of work for gun violence prevention.

Oakland reduced gun violence by 50%,

and it was through this program

that Pastor Mike was leading, and what the program was,

it was gathering together all of the people

that would be involved in terms of gun violence

and repercussions-- gang members, policemen,

community leaders.

You get them all in a room and you get everybody talking,

it's like anything else is, whether it's a team

or a classroom or whatever.

Like, you start to listen, and you start to learn,

and so Pastor Mike, he's very unique

because he's got so much charisma and wisdom.

So we went and met with him

and asked him a few questions.

You did? We did,

and here's one of our favorite clips.

McBride: When I was a minister, a youth minister in San Jose

in 1999, I was physically and sexually assaulted

by two police officers in San Jose Police Department.

I was speaking to my youth church that I led,

and many of them told me, "This happens to me all the time."

I said, "Well, why didn't you say anything to me?"

and one of the young people said,

"We did not believe that this part of our lives

was something we could bring to the church,"

and in that moment, I heard God speak to me and say,

"What kind of ministry are you developing

"where these children and their parents will trust you

"with the salvation of their souls

but not the safety of their bodies?"

I'm the fourth of 5 generations

of pastors, preachers, ministers,

music artists and singers who've grown up in the church.

I met Steve Kerr at an event

that Giffords and LIVE FREE, where co-sponsoring.

He's a good brother.

I really appreciate his curiosity.

You know, he really wrestles hard

with the conversations we have,

and he takes action.

He literally took parts of our conversation back

and helped to organize the NBA coaches around racial justice.

I had told Steve about an event we were doing

where young people in East Oakland

were rallying to remove police officers from school,

so they could have the money used for more counselors.

Steve literally left his practice in San Francisco

rushed over to the deep East Oakland,

and stood in a press conference with us,

and that next week, the school district

voted to remove police in schools,

and Steve was there with the young people

taking pictures, speaking, encouraging them

to continue to use their voice for positive and social change.

For me, he's an example of what we all need to do.

That's awesome. I know.

We've gotten really tight, and what I remember

about when the school district in Oakland decided,

"All right. We're not going to have, you know,

a police force in the schools anymore,"

it became kind of a political hot-button topic

because the phrase "defund the police"

was applied to that, and it was

a good reminder to me that everything these days

is sort of glorified and distorted

because what this case was about

was removing police force from a school

and instead spending that money on guidance counselors.

What do you think is more important for these kids?

Can you imagine going to school

with policemen all over the place?

You think that would be healthy?

And just going out to the community

and hearing the people talk--

the students, the teachers-- it was like, "Yeah,"

and I think if most people had gone out there,

they would have gone,

"Oh, yeah. That makes perfect sense,"

but that's the whole point of, as Mike said,

just getting into the community and listening,

and taking part, you just sort of realize

what's real and what isn't.

A weird thing about your job

is that it's super crazy important

when you're doing it,

but then when you step outside of it,

you yourself have said, "It's bull...

Yeah. It's all bull..."

You said that. It is.

It's kind of all ...

I always wrestle with that.

Like, how important is it?

Of course it's important, right,

but it's a basketball game,

and that really came from my family first

and from our upbringing.

We spent many years living overseas.

We traveled the world,

saw all these different cultures,

saw, a lot of people really, you know, struggling

and saw how lucky we were,

and then to have these amazing coaches

who were constantly preaching perspective.

Gregg Popovich, you know, my next coach in San Antonio,

he would just walk in to practice one day,

and we're getting ready to practice, and he--

"Any of you guys see what's going on in Syria?"

and, you know, everyone's like--

He's like, "No? All you're worried about

"is that little ball going through the hoop?

Is that the only thing that's in your life?"

and he had this great way of, like, you know,

kind of needling us and nudging us

to learn and see what's happening

around the world and take part in it,

and so that's the trick as a coach,

is to provide that perspective

where you're getting your players to work

as hard as they possibly can,

and yet you have to also remove

some of the importance of it

because by taking some of the importance away,

it sort of humanizes everybody,

and it gives you perspective,

and it's a little easier to deal

with the ups and downs.

You love a locker room.

Yeah. Yeah. Locker room.

That's what they say that players

dream about when it's all over.

Is that true for you? Yeah.

You know, that's what players miss.

You know, they don't miss the games.

They miss the locker room.

They missed the bus.

They miss the camaraderie.

There's nothing like it-- the barbs, the jabs,

the trash-talking mixed with this quest to win

and the joy of winning and the devastation of losing

and all of that, and you go through everything together.

It's an incredible bond, and then when you retire,

you just miss that interaction.

That first year, life is quiet, you know?

It's quiet.

Being in a locker room and in a bus

with guys all the time,

most people don't have that.

Live like that. Yeah,

and so when you do live like that,

it's really hard to suddenly be alone.

When you were a broadcaster with TNT,

you were always dropping in

on other people's practices and taking notes.

My last few years of broadcasting,

I was preparing to coach,

and so I was literally taking notes,

and from these guys who were great coaches in the league,

I was able to build my plan for how I wanted to coach.

How close were you?

Like, you know, sometimes when things

are on paper, they seem one way,

and then once you get into the arena,

whatever it may be,

things are slightly different.

Like, how useful were your notes?

The first year, I had this whole plan

that I had written out, and I'm like,

"I've never actually tried any of this,

so, you know, I hope it works,"

but everything clicked.

Yeah. It sure did.

I've had a lot of great years in my life.

It's probably the most fun year of my entire life,

even more fun than being a player,

because when I was a player,

I beat myself up all the time,

so seasons were difficult.

They were exhausting.

I still beat myself up if I coach a bad game

or something, but it's different.

I feel more at ease with myself.

And maybe it's just more pleasant

to have it be about them and not you...

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. you know?

I never thought of it this way,

but maybe because I beat myself up

over my whole performance my entire life,

maybe it was just a relief

to actually focus on somebody else.

Somebody else. Yeah. Yeah.

You just nailed it. Thank you.

Thank you very much.

So, we have a little speed round

here at "Tell Me More."

Let's see how you do.

If I looked at your Spotify playlist,

what would be the most played?

Counting Crows.

What's your go-to mantra for hard times?

Carry on.

There's a great song by the band Fun.

That's so good.

You know that song "Carry on"? That's--

[Both hum]

Yeah.

If your mother wrote a book about you,

what would it be called?

"Steve Is Great, But You Should Meet My Other 3 Children."

Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!

If your high school did superlatives,

what would you have been most likely to become?

Most likely to become a high-school basketball coach.

Very close to what you ended up being.

You've met 5 presidents.

Looking back over all 46, do you have a favorite?

President Obama.

We actually played golf together about a month ago,

and it was one of the great days in my life.

Who won?

He won the front. I won the back.

That's nice. Yeah.

Yeah. It all worked out well.

- Thank you so much. - Thank you, Kelly.


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