Quick Review: STEVE KERR by Scott Howard-Cooper (William Morrow)

HowardCooperS-SteveKerrUSHCThe definitive biography of Steve Kerr, the championship-winning basketball player and head coach of the record-breaking Golden State Warriors

Few individuals have had a career as storied, and improbable, as Steve Kerr. He has won eight NBA titles — five as a player and three as a coach — for three different franchises. He played alongside the best players of a generation, from Michael Jordan to Shaquille O’Neal to Tim Duncan, and learned the craft of basketball under four legendary coaches. He was an integral part of two famed NBA dynasties. Perhaps no other figure in basketball history has had a hand in such greatness.

In Steve Kerr, award-winning sports journalist Scott Howard-Cooper uncovers the fascinating life story of a basketball legend. Kerr did not follow a traditional path to the NBA. He was born in Beirut to two academics and split his childhood between California and the Middle East. Though he was an impressive shooter, the undersized Kerr garnered almost no attention from major college programs, managing only at the last moment to snag the final scholarship at the University of Arizona. Then, during his freshman season at Arizona, tragedy struck. His father, Malcolm, then the president of the American University of Beirut, was assassinated in Lebanon by terrorists. Forged by the crucible of this family saga, Steve went on to chart an unparalleled life in basketball, on the court and on the sidelines.

The only coach other than Red Auerbach to lead a team to the Finals five consecutive seasons, Kerr seems destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Steve Kerr is his incredible story, offering insights into the man and what it takes to be — and make — a champion. Drawing upon Scott Howard-Cooper’s years covering the Warriors, deep archival research, and original interviews with more than one hundred of the central characters in Kerr’s life, this is basketball biography at its finest.

I first learned who Steve Kerr was during the Golden State Warriors’ championship runs from 2014-19 (a run the Raptors ended). Over those years, I picked up bits and pieces of information about his playing career — specifically, that he was on the Chicago Bulls during Michael Jordan’s post-baseball years back on the team. It wasn’t until The Last Dance docu-series that I learned a bit more about his pre-Warriors life. With Scott Howard-Cooper’s Steve Kerr: A Life, I’ve been able to fill in the gaps. This is a very good picture of Kerr’s fascinating life, on and off the court.

One thing that jumped out at me while reading Steve Kerr: A Life, was how little time Howard-Cooper spends recounting important games. The author (and this reader) is far more interested in placing Kerr’s on-the-court experiences and achievements in the context of his life as a whole. It’s an approach that works very well, and aside from the occasional clunky or strange transitions, I was hooked from the start. Kerr has lived such an interesting life, and I really appreciated the author’s approach to telling his story. (If one was cynical about the basketball biography/memoir genre, one could say this is because there was no need to pad out the page-count with game reports, if you’re writing a book about Steve Kerr.)

Howard-Cooper describes Kerr’s upbringing, spent between Pacific Palisades, Beirut and Cairo. The special place Beirut holds in his life — ultimately tragic — is covered very well, and the author does a very good job of explaining the family’s connection to the city and region. Readers will see how Kerr’s international experience helped him see the world in broader terms than he might have, had he never lived overseas.

Of course, basketball is not absent — that would be impossible, and quite strange — rather, the most important moments are covered and examined, and then placed in the broader context of Kerr’s full story (to date). The author chronicles his early basketball career — at high school, on the streets of Cairo, and at the University of Arizona. The author describes how, at so many points during his early playing years, Kerr had to fight to get noticed, often being selected or hired as an afterthought. At other times, it was just because of his excellent character (which was certainly a draw for the… troubled Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 1988; and also the Portland Trail Blazers in 2001-2, as the team dealt with their “Jail Blazers” reputation). We also, of course, get plenty on Kerr’s time on the Chicago Bulls years (1993-8), and his relationship with Jordan. (For more on this, see the aforementioned, and very highly-recommended The Last Dance.)

With plenty of quotations from Kerr’s coaches, teammates, family and more, readers get what feels like a pretty complete picture of the athlete, the coach, and the person. We see how his experiences and relationships affected his own development as a player, coach, and person. In particular, the importance of his various coaches — they didn’t just help him figure out how to contribute on the court, but helped him figure out himself, and how he can be a better person off the court. Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, in particular, seem to have had a big influence, but also his parents — both driven, accomplished educators. It certainly helps that Kerr has always been approachable for the media (one of the “Moths”), which means there is plenty of material to sift through and synthesize into and fuller picture of the person and how he has grown and changed over time. I finished the book wondering, “Did anyone not like him?” By all accounts, it seems not.

Howard-Cooper doesn’t indulge in any pop-psychology. He allows Kerr’s and others’ words to paint most of the picture of who Kerr is, supplementing his own experiences interviewing and being around Kerr as a reporter. This is another way in which this biography is elevated over many of the others. Some of what he experienced at college reminded me of what I’ve read about Steph Curry’s experiences — overlooked, too small, etc. — and made me wonder if that might be why Kerr and Curry have clicked so well.

Ultimately, this is so much more than a basketball book. It’s a glimpse at a full, fascinating life. Definitely recommended.

*

Scott Howard-Cooper’s Steve Kerr: A Life is due to be published by William Morrow in North America and in the UK, on June 15th, 2021.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from publisher

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