Steve Kerr discusses basketball, non-violent protest at Zellerbach Hall

Mikaela Raphael/File

An anxious crowd awaited Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, in Zellerbach Hall. The excitable group grew more and more frenetic as Kerr’s scheduled time of arrival neared.

The crowd broke out in a chant.

“Warriors, Warriors, Warriors,” they called, in a drawn out manner more similar to the famous line from the 1979 film than anything else.

Soon after, Kerr — ever the Southern Californian — took to the stage rocking a sports jacket, jeans and Vans. He was joined by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who acted as moderator at the for the Berkeley Talks event Sept. 21, which was put on by Cal Performances.

In the hour they shared the stage, Dirks quizzed Kerr on a wide variety of topics, including the Warriors’ historic season and the coach’s thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s protests of police violence committed against Black people.

“It doesn’t really matter if you’re on his side or not,” Kerr said. “It matters what’s happening.”

Kerr, long esteemed for his well-spoken manner, firmly got across his understanding for both sides of the national anthem debate but also held up his belief in the value of non-violent protest to the raucous approval of the crowd.

“Thank God I’m not in Tuscaloosa,” Kerr laughed.

Kerr maintained that it was the choice of his individual players what to do when the national anthem was played — the only Warrior to protest at the team’s first preseason game was David West, who’s being doing it for years. He did say, however, that a conversation was necessary among the team as any individual’s decision affected the person next to them.

As expected, the air in the auditorium didn’t stay so heavy. Kerr is many things, but at the core of his personality has always been a lighthearted figure, waiting to crack jokes and shoot the shit. Basketball took over the night and even Kerr pointed out the Warriors jerseys littered throughout the crowd upon coming to the stage. He touched on the Warriors’ historic collapse in last year’s finals and their addition of Kevin Durant.

The pressure is high and the media attention may be unprecedented — there’s no beat more competitive. The Warriors, coming off an NBA record 73 wins, are now expected to be the most talented team ever assembled, and Kerr’s duty will be to guide that ship after bringing one of the NBA’s most troubled franchises out of the doldrums of the league for good.

“You guys who’ve been following the Warriors, you’ve been through a lot of pain to get to this point,” Kerr said. “I’m well aware of that 40 years, but as an analyst with TNT covering the NBA, I could see what was happening.”

Kerr, who took over two years ago, didn’t step into the muddy situation the Warriors are usually mired in. He took over a 51-win team, armed with the league’s most explosive backcourt. Kerr, however, turned that good team into an elite one, winning 67 games and a title in his first year on the job.

He also talked about the most notable of his former coaches, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, contrasting Jackson’s spiritual, ethereal vibe with Popovich’s famously serious attitude.

Kerr recounted Popovich having the Spurs watch the 2000 presidential debates together after splitting the team into a Republicans versus Democrats scrimmage. Jackson, meanwhile, was more interested in burning incense to get rid of “the evil spirits” after a rare Bulls losing streak. Despite their differences on just about everything, Kerr spoke to both of their importance in shaping him as a coach.

“What I found was that a great coach doesn’t have to fit one mold,” Kerr said. “Can you connect with the players? Can you inspire them?”

Finally, Kerr moved on to telling how his daughter, who was at Zellerbach, had ended up at Cal and espoused the merits of Berkeley. Maddy Kerr — a star on the Cal volleyball team — chose the Bears over Stanford because of Berkeley’s “grit and grime.”

“I was proud,” Kerr said. “I really was.”

He capped off the night with a story about Luke Walton, Kerr’s former assistant.

“Luke told me that his dad (Hall of Famer Bill Walton) drove them up from San Diego to Berkeley,” Kerr said, breaking out a wry smile as he prepared to break out his best Bill Walton impression. “Four boys. And they all get out of the car, and Bill says to them, ‘Boys, take a look around. This is paradise.’ ”

And that night, you’d believe Kerr felt the same.

Hooman Yazdanian covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian

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