"It doesn't seem that Steve's enough of a jerk to be a really successful coach," Marvin said. "Is he mean enough or nasty enough to get on people, which you have to do as a coach?"
In other words, is he tough enough for this unforgiving task of driving a group of professional athletes toward a title?
Truth is, Stephen Douglas Kerr, son of a slain American hero, answered that question a long time ago.
Malcolm Kerr said he loved only one thing more than watching one of his three sons, Steve, play basketball, and that was serving as president of American University of Beirut. The Kerrs represented three generations of world travelers and cultural bridge builders between the U.S. and the Middle East. They were the living, breathing antithesis of the ugly-American stereotype, and Steve had never seen his father more excited than he was the day Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Carter shook hands at the signing of the Camp David Accords.
But the Kerr patriarch was invested enough in his boy's jumper to call Olson to nail down that scholarship to Arizona, where Steve was booked for a seat at the end of the bench. Steve's older brother, John, would write him from Egypt, encouraging him to keep working the problem as he moved up from Olson's fifth guard to the fourth, and then from the fourth to the third. John had reason for optimism all along: He had seen Steve, as a ninth-grader living in Cairo, drop 40 points on an Egyptian club team comprising men in their 20s before a club official offered him a monthly salary, a car and an apartment the next day if he'd join their team. (The Kerrs figured Steve was better off keeping his NCAA eligibility.)
John was visiting his parents in Beirut at Christmastime 1983 when the grainy tape of one of Steve's first college games arrived from the States. "It was one camera view from midcourt, from the concourse, and Arizona had three different guards with blond hair," recalled John, now a professor of international development at Michigan State. "We finally figured out which one was Steve, and we saw him score some points. I can say it was a highlight of my father's life to watch Steve playing in an NCAA game."
That life suddenly ended weeks later, on Jan. 18, 1984, when two Islamic terrorists ambushed Malcolm outside his university office and shot him in the back of the head for the crime of being an American.
Lebanon had descended into civil war, and an anti-Western fervor colored the chaos. The 52-year-old educator, peacemaker and author who dedicated his everything to improving relations between the U.S. and the Arab world was murdered in the same building where he had met his wife, Ann, in 1954, and was pronounced dead in the same hospital where he had been born.
Andrew, at 15 the youngest of the Kerr children, heard about his father's assassination on a radio while eating lunch at his Beirut school a few blocks away. John was out of college and working in agricultural economics in Egypt, cherishing every minute of the adventure, when he got the devastating news. Susan, the one daughter, was enjoying her newlywed life in Taiwan when she took the phone call from her mother.