Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s grandparents rescued thousands of orphans during Armenian Genocide
LOS ANGELES - Nine-time NBA champion Steve Kerr – who has won five titles as a player and four as head coach of the Golden State Warriors– attributes his successes to the heroic courage his grandparents demonstrated in their lifetime.
During a tumultuous time in history, the Kerrs were instrumental in making it possible for an entire generation to survive and thrive.
While most know Kerr as a basketball star and NBA coach, many are unaware of his family history and its deep connection to the Armenian people.
"We're traveling so much—always someone is saying something to me about my grandparents or holding up an Armenian flag," Kerr said.
"And it's incredibly humbling to hear these stories. You know, your grandparents are the only reason I'm here. I mean, pretty moving and special. And it makes me feel really proud, but makes me feel sad to think about all of the lives that were lost and the families that were impacted."
It’s a sacred story of courage and real-life heroes.
One that’s being carefully chronicled by documentary filmmaker Ani Hovannisian.
"It's an important story because Armenians all over the world have for the century been feeling like their story is forgotten," said Ani Hovannisian.
But humanitarian efforts like those undertaken by the Kerr family showed Hovannisian that her ancestors were not abandoned by the world.
"Even in the worst of times, even in the face of the most horrible inhumanity that we're not alone; that there are people like Stanley and Elsa who put their lives on the line," said Hovannisian.
Stanley Kerr and Elsa Reckman were Steve’s grandparents. Stanley was a chemist and in 1919 he joined the Near East Foundation as a relief worker.
The Near East Foundation is an American humanitarian organization which was created in response to the 1915 Armenian Genocide– were 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks.
Elsa also had a calling to serve others– she traveled abroad to teach.
They met in the Armenian town of Marash and that is where they witnessed horrific events – but they were compelled to help.
"We're astounded that they had the courage at 21, 22-years-old to go basically into the middle of World War I," said Kerr.
Stanley wrote many letters home to his family— describing the dangers the Armenians were facing.
Stanley kept his promise to make any sacrifice and stayed. He was assigned to care for 9,700 orphaned Armenians– when he became the director of the Near East Foundation in Marash.
He took over 5 orphanages.
Stanley and Elsa stayed in Marash until every remaining Armenian orphan was relocated safely to Lebanon. Then they got married, moved to Lebanon, and built a life there.
"Stanley and Elsa and the boys built this Near East Relief, orphanage together," said Hovannisian.
For 40 years Stanley taught at the medical school of AUB, the American University of Beirut.
"My siblings and I, you know, we know the story inside and out. It's a huge part of the family history," said Kerr.
Much of the Kerrs' history is rooted in Lebanon. Steve's father Malcolm was born in Beirut.
"He was offered the job of his dreams to be president of AUB. It was a very dangerous time in Lebanon there was civil war, there was terrorism," said Hovannisian.
Malcolm continued the Kerr legacy of selflessly serving others– until he was shot and killed.
"His life was cut short-- and my life was shaped by his influence and my mom's influence. I know that the person I am is basically who my parents raised," Kerr said.
Steve was also born in Beirut– he had the opportunity to live abroad– which he says helped shape who he is today.
"I was lucky to receive a worldview at a very young age to really see how other people lived– probably didn't realize it at the time, but it was the best education I ever got."
And because of that insight into the human condition– he feels compelled to take on a cause.
"I made gun safety and gun violence prevention my own personal crusade about eight years ago. And a lot of that has to do with the death of my dad. As grandkids of Stanley and Elsa, maybe that's my way of trying to do something positive for society. And it's definitely something that I feel a responsibility for, just as maybe Stanley and Elsa felt in a way back in 1920," said Kerr.
This human spirit carries on generations later in the Kerr family…. and generations carry on because of them.
"Those orphans, 10,000 and more orphans that they saved now have 5 generations of families after them who are living and thriving because of people like the Kerrs," said Hovannisian.
Ani Hovannisian’s documentary is still a work in progress.