The Tragic Death Of Steve Kerr's Father

From his epic career alongside the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan to his record-breaking tenure as head coach for the Golden State Warriors, basketball legend Steve Kerr has left an indelible mark on the NBA. But during ESPN's The Last Dance, fans were introduced to a part of Steve's history that modern audiences might not know. On Jan. 18, 1984, when Steve was just 18 years old, his father Dr. Malcolm Kerr was shot and killed by Islamic extremists in Beirut.

During the segment, Steve and his mother Ann recalled how his father's death impacted his basketball career. "So I received a phone call in the middle of the night from a family friend. My phone rang in my dorm at 3 o'clock in the morning, so I knew something was up," Steve said (per Yahoo! Sports). While his father was the president of the American University of Beirut, Steve attended the University of Arizona. "[The family friend] just said, 'Steve, I have terrible news,'" he recalled. "Basketball was the one thing I could do to take my mind off what happened. So I went to practice the next day. I didn't know what else to do."

Yet while Jordan's father James Raymond Jordan was also murdered, Steve revealed the two "never discussed that," because "it was probably too painful for each of us." Malcolm's death made international headlines and prompted President Reagan to denounce the "despicable assassins" who committed this violent atrocity against an American abroad.

Steve Kerr's father was murdered by terrorists during the Lebanese Civil War

As a professor focusing on Middle Eastern and Arab studies, Dr. Malcolm Kerr became president of the American University of Beirut in 1982 (via Esquire). But as an American in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, Malcolm was especially vulnerable to terror attacks and retaliation. As the New York Times wrote, he was killed when two gunmen "fired two bullets into his head while he was walking to his office."

After the American embassy and a Marine compound were bombed the year before, Malcolm told Prof. Edwin T. Prothro that he "knew his life could be in danger," but that "he took the job anyways because he loved this place and he wanted to build it into something special." Ultimately, he "was killed not for who he was or what he did, but for what he symbolized to others who never even knew him," per the Times.

President Ronald Reagan issued an official statement about the attack, noting that Malcolm was a "highly respected member of the academic world" who "worked tirelessly and courageously" to strengthen "the historical, cultural, and academic ties between the United States and Lebanon and other countries of the Middle East." Reagan added, "Dr. Kerr's untimely and tragic death... must strengthen our resolve not to give in to the acts of terrorists. Terrorism must not be allowed to take control of the lives, actions, or future of ourselves and our friends."

Steve Kerr turned to basketball after his father's death

As Steve Kerr said during his segment on The Last Dance, he immediately threw himself into basketball. In fact, his former teammates at the University of Arizona revealed he never attended his father's funeral. According to USA Today, instead of flying to Beirut for the services, Steve attended practice and played against Arizona State, where he hit 5-of-7 shots in a 71-49 win — the best game of his freshman season.

"A bunch of us gave him a nickname," guard Brock Brunkhorst explained, "and I don't really know if it's out there much. We called him Ice. Because that's just how he was." Bruce Fraser, Steve's best friend and current Golden State assistant, added, "He was just so [expletive] angry. But that was Steve. He could turn it toward the court and win."

Steve said (per The New Yorker) that "playing basketball took my thoughts away from what was going on" and "gave me something to fall back into." But as Fraser added, Dr. Malcolm Kerr's death might've also pushed Steve to become his best self. "It feels strange to say this, but I've thought about it for a while and I believe it. I think the death of his father helped Steve as a basketball player, because he realized it was just basketball... this changed his whole outlook."

The athlete was able to transform his sadness into success in the aftermath, all but clinching his place in basketball history.

Steve Kerr's father influenced his coaching techniques

After his 15-year career on the court, Steve Kerr turned to coaching and has since led the Golden State Warriors to three championship titles. But when it comes to Steve's success as a coach — he was named Coach of the Year in 2016 — the 54-year-old claims his effective techniques were born from his father Dr. Malcolm Kerr's patience. After all, Steve has developed a reputation for being calm and quiet — but he was not always so composed.

"I had a horrible temper. I couldn't control it," Steve told the New York Times in 2016. "Everything I did, if I missed a shot, if I made an out, I got so angry. It was embarrassing... He and my mom would be in the stands watching, and he never really said anything until we got home. He had the sense that I needed to learn on my own, and anything he would say would mean more after I calmed down."

Steve added that his father was what every Little League parent should be, as the casual and nonchalant talks would come after the fact, when they felt more like conversations rather than lectures. "He was an observer," Steve said. "And he let me learn and experience. I try to give our guys a lot of space and speak at the right time. Looking back on it, I think my dad was a huge influence on me, on my coaching." He's certainly left his mark.