With the NBA finals due to begin in Oakland, California, on Thursday night an interesting side note will be the Middle East backgrounds of the two opposing coaches.
Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt needs no introduction to Israeli sports fans. An Israeli citizen since 1981, Blatt was head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv for four years, leading the team to Euroleague victory in 2014.
His rival in the finals, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, is probably less known to Israelis, but his Middle East roots run deep.
Kerr was born in the Lebanese capital Beirut where his father, Malcolm, was a renowned Middle East scholar. He spent his early childhood in Lebanon, before the family returned to America, though his father's travels often took the family to places like Cairo and Tunisia for extended periods.
The family returned to the Middle East in 1977, when Malcolm became a visiting professor at the American University in Cairo. Steve Kerr was not particularly happy about the move, because by then he had begun playing basketball in the U.S..
Nevertheless, he attended junior high school and one year of high school in Beirut, learning Arabic and forging friendships with kids from all over the world.
In January 1984, with Steve Kerr back in the U.S. and a freshman at the University of Arizona, Malcolm Kerr was shot and killed by Islamic terrorists in the American University of Beirut, where he had been president for 16 months.
Devastated and separated from his family Kerr found solace in basketball. He went on to have a 15-year NBA career – a second-round draft pick, he won five NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
But the game he will never forget, he told the San Jose Mercury News in an interview, was a college game in Tempe, Arizona, four years after his father's death. As he warmed up on the court 30 minutes before tipoff, a small group of Arizona State students positioned themselves nearby and began chanting "PLO! PLO! Where's your dad?"
Kerr staggered in tears to the locker room and almost collapsed. But he managed to pull himself together and play a blinder, scoring six three-pointers in the first half.
Kerr and Blatt will have a lot in common when they meet in Oakland – not least the fact that they are both the first rookie NBA coaches to make it into the finals.
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