NY Times recalls 'P.L.O.' chants directed toward Steve Kerr by ASU students

Posted at 1:06 PM, Dec 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-23 15:16:06-05

Most fans can recall a single moment in which they came to despise their rivals. 

For many Arizona Wildcats fans, that moment came in 1988, when a handful of Arizona State students shouted some incredibly insensitive things toward Steve Kerr, who starred at guard for Arizona and has gone on to win NBA championships as a player and, most recently, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.

In his feature story Thursday called "Tragedy Made Steve Kerr See the World Beyond the Court," New York Times writer John Branch reviewed the circumstances that led to the public death of Kerr's father in 1984, as well as how it affected Kerr on and off the court.

While serving as president of the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, Kerr's father Malcolm was famously shot and killed by a member of a group that called itself Islamic Holy War.

Even though his father's death hit Kerr hard, he told Branch it was "cathartic" for him to continue playing basketball at Arizona -- and Branch noted Kerr had a "breakout game" two days after his father's death against rival Arizona State.

But it wasn't until four years later that Kerr was subject to some nasty chants by a handful of ASU students before an ASU-UA game in Tempe.

Among the things shouted at Kerr, who is now one year younger than his father was when he died, were chants of "P.L.O.," along with "Your father's history" and "Why don't you join the Marines and go back to Beirut?"

Naturally, those comments rattled Kerr.

"When I heard it, I just dropped the ball and started shaking," Kerr said after the game, according to Branch.

"I sat down for a minute. I'll admit they got to me. I had tears in my eyes. For one thing, it brought back memories of my dad. But, for another thing, it was just sad that people would do something like that."

Kerr was a two-time First-Team All-Pac-10 selection at Arizona, and in his senior season, he shot 57.3 percent from 3-point range and helped guide the Wildcats to their first-ever Final Four appearance. He was drafted by the Suns but went on to win five NBA championships with the Bulls and Spurs.

A Kerr quote from a Los Angeles Times story reveals the 1988 game wasn't the first time that Sun Devil students made those kinds of remarks.

"It's hard to believe that people would do that, but it had happened to me one other time before, a couple of years ago, also at Arizona State," Kerr said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "But that time it was just one or two people, so it wasn't noticed much. Saturday, it was about 10 or 15 people, in unison."

The Los Angeles Times also reported ASU's athletic director sent a letter of apology to Kerr after the 1988 game.

It's important to remember that only a few insensitive students engaged in those chants. Nonetheless, it's just one of a number of examples of poor behavior from both sides that has fueled the ASU-UA rivalry -- and it's one that Wildcat fans, along with Kerr himself, certainly remember to this day.