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Steve Kerr: ‘The biggest problems come when people don’t speak’

Warriors coach Steve Kerr on being vocal about social issues: "If you look at the history of the world, the biggest problems come when people don’t speak." (Brandon Dill/AP)

NEW ORLEANS — Stick to sports? There’s no way Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is going to do that.

Kerr, a forthright guy going back to his days as a guard on the Bulls’ championship teams in 1996-98, has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, the process by which Trump was elected and Trump’s controversial immigration ban.

‘‘The whole process has left us feeling kind of disgusted and disappointed,’’ Kerr said just after the election. ‘‘I thought we were better than this.’’

And he’s not going to ‘‘stick to sports’’ just because he’s a basketball coach.

‘‘If you go by that mantra, then everybody should stick to whatever they’re doing; that means nobody’s allowed to have a political opinion,’’ said Kerr, who will coach the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. ‘‘It just so happens that we get these microphones stuck in our faces, so we have a bigger platform.

‘‘But it’s free speech. And if you look at the history of the world, the biggest problems come when people don’t speak. So I think it’s important to express your views.’’

Activism is a topical issue at the All-Star Game because the NBA and commissioner Adam Silver moved the game from Charlotte to New Orleans to protest the North Carolina legislature’s ‘‘bathroom law,’’ which bans transgender people from using bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity.

‘‘The NBA, I think, is at the forefront of social activism as far as the major sports are concerned,’’ Kerr said. ‘‘I’m very proud of the work that Adam Silver’s doing and the league’s doing. They back up what they believe in, and I think that’s important.’’

Social activism — any activism, actually — in the sports world can be dicey. For fans who turn to sports as a diversion and escape from political discourse, coaches and players breaking that wall can be a turnoff. But, as Kerr noted, these are extraordinary times that almost compel even athletes and coaches to speak up.

‘‘I think it’s important because of what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in our government,’’ Kerr said. ‘‘If you look at the history of athletes’ involvement in social issues, it’s been most prominent at the most prominent times of need. In the ’60s and ’70s, you look at Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown, the civil-rights movement, Vietnam.

‘‘Those were things happening that were powerful and chaotic, and [the] times called for leadership. I think the same thing’s happening now.’’

As Warriors star Stephen Curry showed recently, you don’t have to be an activist to take a stand. When Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank appeared to embrace Trump’s agenda, Curry was among the Under Armour athletes who protested. Plank later clarified his remarks as relating to Trump’s business policies only, using a full-page ad in the Baltimore Sun to say he is opposed to Trump’s immigration ban.

That Curry said he was more interested in promoting change than in selling shoes struck a chord with Kerr, a former teammate of Michael Jordan, who in Sam Smith’s book ‘‘Second Coming’’ avoided supporting a black U.S. Senate candidate against Jesse Helms in North Carolina because ‘‘Republicans buy shoes, too.’’

‘‘For a long time, a lot of athletes have kind of stayed out of the political forum out of fear of losing customers,’’ Kerr said. ‘‘I think it’s

refreshing that we have athletes who are putting their social agenda, social beliefs, ahead of any marketing issues. I think that’s powerful.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com