Writer Scott Howard-Cooper’s biography Steve Kerr: A Life (William Morrow) will certainly delight fans for whom the NBA is the glue holding life together. But its impact won’t stop there. The book will resonate with professional, college, high school, club, neighborhood, and weekend-only players of the game; fantasy basketball participants hoping for hoop secrets to put them one step ahead in online gaming; coaches hoping to glam up their play-off jewelry through insights into Kerr’s secrets. (If he chose to, Kerr could simultaneously wear eight NBA championship rings; five earned as a player with Chicago and San Antonio, three as a coach with the Warriors.)
A Life’s potential readers also include those who track the histories of four stellar coaches under whom Kerr served—Lute Olson, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Phil Jackson, and Gregg Popovich. Star-struck basketball followers enamored with insider-type second-hand stories will find much titillation regarding Kerr’s former teammates and fellow players including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, and others.
Importantly, literary folks will also gravitate to a biography that spares no punches about its subject’s personality, and will find much to admire in longtime journalist Howard-Cooper’s meticulous, exhaustive research methodology. The writer deftly avoids hyperbolic hero worship, and provides tremendous, dry, and well-portioned humor. Readers may have previously enjoyed these qualities in Howard-Cooper’s articles, written for Los Angeles Times, ESPN.com, NBA.com , NBA TV, SportsIllustrated.com, and the Sacramento Bee. This long-running engagement with Kerr and his world is evidenced in A Life, in abundance.
Howard-Cooper interviewed more than 125 people for the biography and, after Kerr politely declined involvement, relied on his many years covering the Warriors, including hundreds of hours of interviews with Kerr and the team’s players, to draw an incisive, complex profile. Even after the Warriors organization followed Kerr’s lead and nixed his appeals, Howard-Cooper retains a keen sense of humor without embitterment, writing in the unauthorized account, “The Warriors are to be commended for taking a firm stand against positive publicity.”
Thankfully, the stories told in the biography do not always fall into “positive publicity” territory; no attempt is made to sugarcoat Kerr’s flaws and weaknesses. Readers learn that he was an average player coming out of high school in Pacific Palisades, grabbing a last, late scholarship offer from Arizona. Kerr was not a textbook shooter, and in 1988 was only the 50th pick in the second round of the draft, going to the Phoenix Suns. Despite his 15 seasons in the NBA, and eventually earning success tied to his intellect, keen study of game dynamics, and ability to get along with all types of people, Kerr’s career was continually tied down. His prospects were burdened by constant questions or doubts about slight flaws in his ball-handling, and his ability to be an NBA-level series-winning contributor.
Included in the book’s grimmer stories about Kerr off the court are episodes of excessive drinking and profanity-laced tirades, temperamental and testy behavior with teammates or the media, and—especially during a stint as general manager with the Phoenix Suns—his struggles and stumbles to become the widely-admired team leader who he is today.
Both of Kerr’s parents were high profile educators in universities in the Middle East, and by the age of 16, Howard-Cooper writes, “Kerr had lived in the United States, the Middle East, Europe … played basketball on dirt courts against men … met John Wooden, got to be a UCLA ball boy, and had a bomb explode in his driveway.”
A Life’s grimmest passages by far are dedicated to the loss Kerr and his family endured when his father Malcolm was assassinated in Beirut in 1984. It’s not wild supposition to say that losing his father due to gun violence while Kerr was in his first year in college forever altered his trajectory, a line of thought Howard-Cooper artfully and convincingly weaves in throughout the book.
All of this is not to say the biography paints solely woeful pictures. The terrific loss of Malcolm will forever be present in the Kerr story, but it is love and a persistent grip on positivity that most characterize the family, particularly its most famous member. A Life tracks Kerr’s path to becoming more self-aware, humble, and appreciative—just as much as his win-loss stats.
Howard-Cooper has written an account of achievements, embarrassments, exaltation, and even the boring repetitiveness of basketball’s practice, practice, drill, drill imperative. Recognitions, key games, championships, and awards earned due to Kerr’s evolution as a player and coach provide necessary uplift. Kerr is shown as a gun control advocate, supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, a person prone to honest, raw statements of belief that contrast with his more typical, clever pushback bantering in press conferences and postgame chats. It is these complexities that lend the biography its substance.
Kerr and his life as revealed by Howard-Cooper are compelling. Even if you’re not climbing onto the Warriors bandwagon this season, read this book.
More information on Steve Kerr: A Life here.