That has never been more clear than in this current moment. Last month, following the mass shooting that killed 21 people, including 19 children, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., Warriors head coach Steve Kerr used a pregame news conference to make an impassioned challenge to the Senate to enact gun control laws. In 1984, Kerr’s father, Malcolm, who was president of the American University of Beirut, was murdered by a militant group supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran. So when Kerr speaks about the horrors of gun violence, it’s from a place of experience.
The Warriors, along with the Dallas Mavericks, had a moment of silence before their next game to honor the victims. “It was, since I became coach in 2014, I’m guessing the 15th moment of silence before a game for the victims of mass shooters,” Kerr told me, explaining his call to action in an exclusive interview at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Wednesday. “And it’s maddening, honestly, because I know that when my dad was killed through gun violence, if someone had a moment of silence, I would have appreciated it, but it wouldn’t have done much. … What would actually be meaningful is if we could take steps to try to limit this from happening.”
For me, a lifelong Golden State Warriors fan, Kerr’s outspoken news conference was something to feel proud of. And instead of shying away from a highly charged issue, the Warriors organization signaled its support by amplifying Kerr’s words across social media. That decision was admittedly not a huge risk, since most Americans favor background checks to purchase guns. But it demonstrated a commitment to values — something that sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association, have been criticized for not always upholding.
The conviction to take on potentially divisive issues is part of the culture Kerr has helped cultivate in the team.
In the past, celebrities rarely stepped out of their arenas into politics and activism. Today, public figures have resources and responsibilities previous generations did not. This Warriors team is built around a core of three superstars — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — who have played together for a decade, something virtually unheard of in modern sports.
Always opinionated, Green — who has written an op-ed for The Post — hosts a popular podcast and has signed a contract to join the TNT network as a contributor, a first for an active player. Curry has a series of business and social justice ventures that reflect his personal values. And, though long known for his quiet demeanor, Thompson is now also taking a more public stance on racial injustice.
When the Warriors won the NBA title in 2018, instead of visiting President Donald Trump at the White House as is customary for championship teams, they went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture with kids from then-Warriors player Kevin Durant’s hometown.
“Our players all have pet projects, community service stuff that they do,” Kerr told me. “We’re very proud of the work that the whole organization does.”
This history of activism and bridge-building is not new. The Warriors were the first NBA team to sign a player from the Soviet Union. Lithuanian star Sarunas Marciulionis paved the way for dozens of others, helping transform the NBA into a truly international enterprise. The first openly gay high-level executive in the NBA spent his most productive years with the Warriors, and by all accounts his sexuality was never an issue.
“There’s a lot of pride that’s taken here in speaking and marching and being lockstep with our brothers and sisters in the community,” Kerr told me. “There’s definitely a feeling in this community, in the Bay Area, that we can make an impact. And I think our team represents that.”
Like other teams, the Warriors haven’t been perfect: Kerr has said he regrets past comments on China, and has distanced the organization from one of its co-owners’ dismissive remarks on repression of the Uyghurs this year. That gives me hope the Warriors will bring the same moral clarity to this issue that they have to other sensitive ones.
The Golden State Warriors won their first NBA championship in 1975, the year before I was born. They didn’t win one again until 2015 — a year I spent entirely as a hostage in Iranian prison. After devotedly following a team that was abysmal for most of my life, I felt the irony of being locked up when they finally reached the promised land. Sporadically, I would receive news from the outside world, so I knew the Warriors began the following season by winning an incredible 24 consecutive games. Surprisingly, even Iran’s state television was carrying highlights of this epic run.
When I was finally released in January 2016, one of the first things I wanted to do was watch Warriors basketball. In the years since, the joy and excitement of going to games or watching them late into the night have been an important part of my recovery. And I’m not alone in that.
“Our players are incredibly kind to people. I can’t tell you how many smiles I’ve seen our players elicit from people visiting practice, kids who maybe have been through a lot health-wise. So many things behind the scenes,” Kerr told me.
The National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys have long been unofficially dubbed “America’s Team.” But, with the way they have used their platforms to make America better while also achieving historic success, the Golden State Warriors are proving that title now belongs to them.