Kyle Korver Speaks On Racism

NBA player and author of an article about white privilege delivers powerful speech

In April of 2019, Kyle Korver found himself thrust into the national spotlight after publishing an article titled “Privilege” in The Player’s Tribune. Korver enjoyed considerable success during his NBA career, even recording the highest 3-point percentage in a regular season in NBA history, but “Privilege” brought him notoriety outside of basketball. The piece addressed problems of white privilege and racism from Korver’s position as a white player in a predominantly black league.

On Wednesday night, Korver sat down in Wait Chapel with Jonathan Walton, dean of the School of Divinity, to discuss that piece and its context, as well as other lessons from Korver’s long-tenured NBA career. 

To begin the evening, Korver and Walton spent a considerable amount of time discussing Korver’s introduction to the sport and his changing notions of leadership and character throughout his career. Korver regaled the audience with stories of leaders he encountered in his playing career, such as Allen Iverson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. He was especially complimentary of James, mentioning his selflessness and ability to lead through joy, rather than fear. 

Though Korver picked up plenty of basketball lessons from figures such as these, he found that maintaining a healthy distance between his personal and professional lives became increasingly difficult. While discussing this, Korver summed up his basketball philosophy.

“I will run longer than you, you’re going to get tired, I’m going to shoot it and I’m going to make it,” Korver said. “And that’s how I live my life.”

Because of this relentlessness, Korver said that he began to see issues fester with his family, particularly in his relationship with his wife. The constant grind of an NBA schedule taxed their marriage, but Korver kept putting his career above the needs of the family. In Milwaukee, he began to recognize his negligence. Korver drew a link between acknowledging “blind spots” in his marriage and becoming prepared to accept the flaws in his perspectives on race.

While in Atlanta, Korver alluded to the growing awareness of race that he felt following the murder of Trayvon Martin, the subsequent growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and the violence he saw inflicted by police on his then-teammate, Thabo Sefolosha.

“I started to understand that I don’t understand,” Korver said.

These incidents inspired Korver to seek instruction from others on matters of race. At this point in the evening, Korver shared several moments that radically altered his perceptions of race.

While trying to explain his feelings about race to a black friend, Korver claimed he was “colorblind.” In response, his friend offered that “when you say you’re colorblind, you choose not to see parts of me that matter.”

Korver saw that, by taking this perspective, he was willfully allowing blind spots to block him from seeing the full complexity of issues involving race in America.

From here, Korver mentioned his fervent efforts to educate himself on matters of race. He read books, conversed with friends and tried to devote more attention to the injustices that people of color experience regularly.

Another critical lesson came at the hands of Christian rapper Lecrae. When Korver came to Lecrae with an idea for an anti-racism philanthropy event that involved dodgeball and Georgia Tech fraternity boys, Lecrae was quickly dismissive. Lecrae took Korver to a shelter for immigrants that day instead, and Korver said this event proved to be monumental for his personal development, opening his eyes to his own immense privilege.

In conversation, Walton defined privilege as “that which we don’t have to think about every day.”

Korver ran with this definition, pointing out the various privileges in his own life: his sex, race, two-parent household and career. This discussion also allowed Korver to express his beliefs about the responsibility of the privileged. He promoted the idea that those in privileged positions have a responsibility to speak on behalf of those without it, and that refusing to do so was grossly negligent.

Korver also explained that he felt a heightened duty to speak out against racism because of his self-identification with the Christian religion. He cited Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in its indictment of the moderate white Christian as the biggest enemy to racial progress. Korver coupled the letter with his belief in Jesus as an ultimately privileged man in order to motivate him further.

When given a final opportunity to speak to the gathered audience, Korver evoked the lessons that he learned from the late Kobe Bryant. He admired Bryant’s intentionality and saw it as central to choosing to do right in everyday life.

His message resonated with many, including sophomore attendee Mark Zavertnik.

“[I] was inspired to be more intentional and more proactive in finding ways to enact change both at Wake Forest as well as in the community,” Zavertnik said.