For decades, Scott Howard-Cooper has reported on the NBA, conducting thoughtful interviews and producing stellar stories for the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, ESPN.com, and NBA.com, among other media outlets.
Howard-Cooper’s NBA reporting work began in 1988. He witnessed the entire Chicago Bulls dynasty and every one of Phil Jackson’s 11 title-winning trips to the Finals while chasing deadlines on the basketball beat. This, of course, helped him form relationships with key NBA personnel ー players, coaches, front-office executives, broadcasters, et al ー all of whom provided invaluable insights for him as he worked on his recently published book “Steve Kerr: A Life.”
This reporter recently wrote a review of Howard-Cooper’s book. He also had the opportunity for a wide-ranging exclusive interview with the veteran author about the experience of writing the book, which he described in various examples as a labor of love.
Some sections of the Q&A with Scott Howard-Cooper have been amended for brevity and/or clarity.
A Conversation with Scott Howard-Cooper
For you, what was the most rewarding aspect of writing the book? And what was the most challenging or difficult aspect of limiting the depth and breadth of Kerr’s life, which includes eight NBA championship rings as a player and head coach, to less than 300 pages and 15 chapters?
Scott Howard-Cooper: Well, the most rewarding was to take a guy who has been in the national spotlight, maybe even an international spotlight in some cases, since the 1980s, has been very prominent in the American sports scene and still come up with new stories. Putting certain events in his life in a new context, I was really proud of that. It’s not just sort of rehashing the stories that have already been told. There certainly is a lot of that because you’re telling the guy’s story. He got in a fight with Michael Jordan. That’s not new, but it has to be in there. He almost took the (New York) Knicks (coaching) job. …
There certainly is some material that people may be familiar with, but I like the chance to sort of put it in context: The biggest shot of his life, the biggest moment on the court in his life was the 1997 Finals, hitting the shot that gave the Bulls the title. But I found a way to sort of talk about how that is more surreal than anybody would’ve imagined, and there’s a lot of different aspects like that.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The people that enter his life along the way is pretty amazing. Here’s this book and you are writing about a basketball player, coach, general manager and broadcaster all rolled into one, and you don’t have to work hard to get Kim Jong-un into it. Yasser Arafat is in it. 9/11, Pearl Harbor, of course, Donald Trump, but even Ronald Reagan and Vice President (George H.W.) Bush.
There’s sort of this Forrest Gump quality to his life. It’s pretty incredible the people that come into Steve’s story that I know when I was writing it I was at one point talking about Kim Jong-Un and I stopped and said to myself, “Hey, this is a little bizarre; that this is not a typical sports story at all.” And that’s one of the things that I really like about it.
Did your overall impression of Steve in, say the year 2018 or 2019 change a lot as you were working on the book?
Scott Howard-Cooper: Probably not. I have known him for a long time. I was aware of all his many positive qualities. He’s genuinely a good guy who cares about other people and wants good things to happen.
But just some of the different examples of that in some of the areas that maybe he didn’t handle so well, wasn’t such a good guy, those were interesting…
To your knowledge has Kerr and/or his family read the book? Have you heard any reactions from them about it, or from people who shared their comments?
Scott Howard-Cooper: There hasn’t been anything. It kind of was an interesting point along the way that I had conversations with people, and some people said, you know what, he’s going to read it anyway. He may not be happy that it came out. He just doesn’t like the attention. He doesn’t want that spotlight. He’s worried about how it will impact the team.
What was your view on the matter?
Scott Howard-Cooper: My opinion was I bet he doesn’t (have an interest in reading it). I think he just sort of says the last person I want to read about is myself.
From start to finish, how long did you spend working on “Steve Kerr: A Life?”
Scott Howard-Cooper: It was probably two to two-and-a-half years.
It was not the original plan. The book was originally supposed to come out Oct. 15, 2020, and COVID-19 rolled over that calendar, because once the NBA schedule got pushed back, the publisher decided, and obviously it was the right decision, that the book should not come out if there’s no season going on. … And then they said, alright, let’s do February or March. That was the new target.
And then as COVID continued, they had to adjust that again, because of decisions at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) that they’ve got a lot of other books to publish, so there’s this logjam, this traffic jam, of books trying to get out, and the we eventually ended up at June 15th.
Was the delay a blessing in disguise?
Scott Howard-Cooper: That gave me more time to do interviews and to get some more information. It was helpful in that regard, but the bad news was by June 15th when the book came out, the Warriors were long done playing. …
That definitely hurt sales initially as you were getting pretty deep into the NBA playoffs: and the team that is the focus of the book, their coach has already been on summer vacation for quite some time.
Now they are looking like the Warriors of old again, maybe that’s my payback in a positive way just a little bit later than we expected.
Do you have a favorite chapter or passage in the book? And if so, why?
Scott Howard-Cooper: Well, I think there’s so many interesting twists and turns in his life. I kind of like some of the parts just before he had gotten into coaching. There were so many moving parts.
Phil Jackson almost became head of basketball operations for the new Seattle SuperSonics, and he would have hired Steve to be the head coach, which would’ve changed history. Steve wouldn’t have ended up at Golden State. But then once the sale of the Sacramento Kings to the group that would have moved the team to Seattle fell through, so did that scenario. …
Then there, of course, was Steve coming very close to becoming the Knicks coach and sort of deconstructing that whole time where it became clear that as I put the pieces together that he was going to go to the Knicks even though he knew it was the wrong decision. That he wanted to repay Phil. He wanted it to be a sign of loyalty to Phil, because of how much Phil had done for Steve’s career, starting with the time with the Bulls, and then even later on just his constant friendship and support. I found that to be very interesting and telling about Steve’s personality. …
Can you briefly talk about Steve’s unlikely journey from being a virtually unknown freshman when he arrived at the University of Arizona to where he is today?
Scott Howard-Cooper: It was so interesting that this guy who couldn’t beg his way to a college scholarship, who thought “if things broke really right, I’m going to get maybe a year or two out of my NBA playing career.”
But this is a guy who was a second-round pick (in 1988) and didn’t have much of a chance to build a career, who before he joined the Bulls (in 1993) was considering retiring. He was that close to being out of the league.
The future Steve Kerr had teams lining up for him to be a coach or a general manager.
As vividly described in your book, what did the scene during the Bulls’ 1997 championship parade in Chicago, when Kerr joked about bailing out Michael Jordan, demonstrate to you?
Scott Howard-Cooper: That shows his personality. He’s got an amazing sense of humor and he’s a guy that later on appeared on stage at (famous comedy club) Second City in Chicago. …
As much as he likes to joke around, his biggest target is probably himself all the time, and I think that’s one of the reasons people like him so much, that they find him so endearing. He’s got a great perspective. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He will do almost anything possible to help out his friends.
You had some really prominent sources in your book that you quoted, such as Gregg Popovich, Jackson and other famous NBA names. That said, were there a few people, researched material and/or one-on-one interviews, you thought were so illuminating in talking about Kerr that surprised you how good the interviews were?
Scott Howard-Cooper: There were so many. I gotta say that one of my favorite parts about the whole project was the interviews. So many people were not only willing to do interviews, but were almost excited to do interviews because this is a guy people love to talk about.
There’s a lot of difficult subjects out there, and when somebody comes up and says, “Tell me about Steve Kerr,” they’ll just talk on and on because he’s a great subject. There’s so much positive about him, and so many people have great stories because he’s such an interesting personality and a jokester and a serious, smart guy. There’s so many different sides of him that I had a lot of interviews that went well beyond an hour, and then when I would sort of finish it up saying thanks for your time, I really appreciate it, and they said call me back if you have anything else. …
Stacey King played against him in the (1988 NCAA) Final Four, played against him when Stacey was with the Bulls and Steve was with the Cavaliers, and there was a big fight in the (1992) playoffs, and guard Steve Kerr was trying to get at center Stacey King (as recounted in the Chicago Tribune). And then, of course, Stacey was a teammate later with the Bulls, so he saw Steve from so many different angles.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Craig Ehlo was fantastic. Paul Mokeski was great. Alvin Gentry. There’s just so many people. …
For this book, you weren’t granted special one-on-one access to Kerr or any member of the Warriors organization. Looking back, did your research and older interview material perhaps strengthen the book instead of using newer one-one interviews?
Scott Howard-Cooper: The good thing about the project, even though Steve didn’t want to be a part of it, was I’ve done interviews with him since the 1980s. We’ve had a very good professional relationship for a long time, and I’ve had dozens of hours of one-on-one interviews with him just since he’s become the Warriors coach alone, and that’s in addition to the interviews I did with him while he was with TNT or general manager of the Suns, or obviously as a player. …
I don’t think I was lacking for material from Steve Kerr. …
I made the best of the access that I did have, and I certainly hope that that comes across ー that I hope the energy I put into the project comes through because I had a blast doing it. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.