Kerr's mind drifts to tragedy even while preparing for Finals

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SAN FRANCISCO -- This is the time of year when few NBA coaches are planning for games and studying video with meticulous precision. The playoffs in late May are about survival of the fittest, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr realizes focus is a requirement.

And yet, as Kerr tries to maintain peak concentration, stark reality and the despair it brings keeps intruding.

Kerr is trying to strike a balance between devotion to his best professional work and the ongoing challenge to one of the guiding principles of his life. Even with his team bound for the NBA Finals, he’s unable to ignore gun violence and the endless echoes of anguish.

“It’s a weird sort of balancing act between how horrified we all are with what actually matters,” Kerr said Sunday, “and a basketball game that’s really meaningful to us in our profession and our fans and all of that.

“But comparison, who the hell cares.”

America is five days removed from a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas, where 21 people -- 19 children and two adults -- were murdered by an 18-year-old who had legally purchased, for personal use, an automatic rifle specifically designed for war. Another 17 people were wounded. Every inch of Uvalde and the surrounding area is touched by the massacre.

Moreover, those of us with a shred of moral sense are saddened and grieving and weeping and outraged. Kerr’s searing pregame comments last Tuesday, days after a mass shooting in Buffalo and hours after the Uvalde massacre, left no doubt about his distaste for the political corruption that fosters legislative apathy.

And here is Kerr, trying to scrutinize box-and-one defenses while also seeking ways to reduce his team’s turnovers. Trying to engage, even as his heartaches, the mind of a coach.

“I don’t really know what the answer is,” he conceded. “You just, ultimately, try to do your job and prepare.

“But it’s impossible to take your mind off of the tragedy, the horror, the devastation of all the families that are forever going to be grieving and are forever altered. It’s a very difficult thing to reconcile.”

When Giants manager Gabe Kapler announced Friday that, effective immediately, he would decline to step onto the field for the national anthem, he explained that this was an individual act to express his disappointment with the ills of our nation -- and the government’s unwillingness to take meaningful action toward healing.

Count Kerr -- who after the 1984 murder of his father dedicated himself to pushing the United States to enact effective gun safety laws -- among the millions in America and abroad who feel the inhumanity that compelled Kapler to take a personal stand.

“I always support any form of peaceful protest,” said Kerr, who at this time plans no similar protest. “That’s what our country is founded on. It’s great that he’s making his own statement. Everyone has to do it their own way.”

Kerr was supportive of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against the racism and injustice often masquerading as law enforcement. Kerr four years ago joined Congressman Ro Khanna for a town hall in the East Bay to address, yes, gun violence in America.

For years a regular presence on Twitter, Kerr has tweeted once in the past 14 months -- and that was last November, when he asked the state of Oklahoma to spare the life of Julius Jones, who was scheduled for execution despite new evidence obtained by The Innocence Project.

So, it’s not surprising that Kerr is on board with Kapler’s decision.

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“What’s unique about being in professional sports, especially these days, is we really have a platform,” he said. “I don’t ever feel like everybody has to use that platform. I just feel like if you feel comfortable doing so that it’s important to do so.

“I applaud Gabe for sticking his neck out there. I’m sure he’s going to take a lot of flack for it. But my view is that peaceful protest is the American way.”

Kerr twice made a point of mentioning the next March For Our Lives, a national movement to fight gun violence in America. It’s scheduled for June 11, the day after the Warriors play Game 4 of the Finals.

If there were a way for this NBA coach to be in two places at once, there’s no question he would try.

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