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‘Steve Kerr: A Life’ a solid sports biography

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Sports biographies are tricky things.

The history of professional sports in this country is built on a foundation of legacy. The lionization of athletic giants is an underlying tenet of pro sports, with the games in a constant conversation with their own history. Protecting that history – that legacy – is paramount to many if not most pro athletes.

At the same time, leaving that history unexamined does a disservice to the reader. A simple and glowing account of an athlete’s feats, all buffed glossiness, is nothing more than hagiography – overly simplistic, unchallenging … and incredibly dull.

And it only gets trickier when the subject isn’t directly involved.

That’s the juggling act Scott Howard-Cooper has undertaken with his new book “Steve Kerr: A Life” (William Morrow, $28.99). It’s the story of the rich and fascinating life lived by Steve Kerr. From his globetrotting boyhood to an underdog basketball journey to the pinnacle of his profession, Kerr’s is a tale almost too interesting to be real, marked by triumph and tragedy.

Telling that story without a direct contribution from Kerr is a bold choice, one that Howard-Cooper hasn’t undertaken lightly. Thanks to his decades-long history and sterling reputation in the sportswriting sphere, he’s one of the few writers with the combination of juice and talent to make a project like this work.

The book delivers precisely what the title promises – this is the life of Steve Kerr. He was born the son of academics, people who traveled the world. He grew up bouncing between Europe, the Middle East and southern California. But all the while, his passion for basketball was growing – as was his talent.

He turned that talent into a scintillating high school career, but his perceived limitations – lack of speed and athleticism and defensive acumen – outweighed his obvious shooting skill for most college coaches. Lucky circumstances landed him a last-ditch end-of-the-bench spot at Arizona, playing for Lute Olson. He turned from a scrub to a starter, part of the program’s renaissance.

It was also during his time at UA that Steve Kerr came to the attention of the nation, but not for his actions on the court. It wasn’t about him at all in fact; Kerr’s father, serving as the president of the American University in Beirut, was killed by an assassin. Burying his grief, Kerr soon returned to the court and pressed onward – basketball was his only refuge from sad reality.

He was drafted by the NBA in the second round; Kerr hoped to squeeze out a season or two in the league before turning to broadcasting or coaching or front office work. He’d do all those things, but not until after he wrapped up a 15-year career with a reputation for three-point sharpshooting and intensely inquisitive basketball intelligence. Oh, and five rings.

From there, he spent time as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns and a few years as an exceptional member of NBA broadcast teams. His first (and still only) head coaching job was taking over the Golden State Warriors – he just wrapped up his seventh season on the bench. In five of those seasons, the Warriors won the Wester Conference. And in three, they were NBA champs.

In that span, we also saw Kerr become considerably more outspoken about the issues of the day, expressing his thoughts about gun violence and occasionally sniping at (and getting sniped at by) the President of the United States. He also dealt with significant back injuries, with a procedure to fix a herniated disc leading to years of agony, pain so great that he missed significant time, unable to do his job.

“Steve Kerr: A Life” would have been a different book with more buy-in from Kerr and the Warriors organization. That’s not in dispute. However, there’s no disputing the care and thoroughness with which Howard-Cooper has assembled this work. Diligently assembling over 100 in-person interviews to go with piles of annotated research, Howard-Cooper has put together a comprehensive look at one of the most interesting men in professional sports today.

The author’s admiration for his subject is clear, but while his appreciation of Kerr is effusive throughout, Howard-Cooper does manage to avoid falling into the trap of starry-eyed hagiography. Kerr’s imperfections might be relatively few, but they are there; Howard-Cooper shares them with us just as readily as the lauding pages of accolades.

“Steve Kerr: A Life” is a straightforward sports biography, a book that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but still gives the reader ample insight into its subject. If this is a book that interests you, you’ve likely read a number of very similar works already, if not in terms of subject, then at least in terms of style and tone. There are a lot of VERY bad sports bios out there, but rest assured that this is not one of them. A breezy, fast-moving read that – much like its titular namesake – makes the majority of its shots.

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 June 2021 06:00

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