NBA player Kyle Korver is a forward and shooting guard for the Utah Jazz. The 6’7 athlete who’s been playing professional basketball since 2003 is also a white man, an albeit, obvious fact which inspired his recent personal essay in Players Tribune entitled Privileged.
The 38-year-old from Paramount, California, who played college basketball at Creighton before being drafted by the New Jersey Nets, wrote a moving op-ed about racism in the NBA, commenting on how he’s watched fellow teammates such as Thabo Sefolosha, and non-teammates like Russell Westbrook, have to abide by a tougher set of rules, both on the court and in life.
Here’s what you need to know about Korver’s Privileged Essay:
1. The Russell Westbrook Incident Explained
While playing the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star was charged $25,000 for exchanging words with fan, Shane Keisel. Westbrook yelled, “I’ll f**k you up, you and your wife,” after something was said to him. Later, Westbrook expressed how the man in the stands was yelling racial slurs at him.
In the essay, Korver highlights this night: “In a closed-door meeting with the president of the Jazz the next day, my teammates shared stories of similar experiences they’d had — of feeling degraded in ways that went beyond acceptable heckling. One teammate talked about how his mom had called him right after the game, concerned for his safety in SLC. One teammate said the night felt like being ‘in a zoo’… Everyone was upset. I was upset — and embarrassed, too.”
The Jazz banned Keisel from ever attending future games or any events at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
2. Korver Spoke About Racism in the NBA on Video with Teammates Sefolosha, Udoh, and Niang.
The Westbrook situation really shook not just Korver, but the entire Jazz team. In addition to his essay, Korver sat down in a forum to speak about social injustices in the NBA on video with his Utah Jazz teammates: Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh and Georges Niang. They discuss the game for which Russell Westbrook had a fan yelling racist slurs at him while playing in Salt Lake City.
“There’ so many layers to this so many issues,” Korver said. “It made me look at myself in the mirror and be like how do I do better? I think for a lot of white people, we feel like if we don’t say anything wrong and we have this idea of color blindness, everyone’s equal, then we’re not part of the problem… and to me, that is the problem.”
3. Korver Honesty on Thabo Sefolosha’s Arrest is Admittedly Cringeworthy
In 2015, back when both Korver and Sefolosha played for the Atlanta Hawks, they were more than just teammates, they were real friends with mutual respect and admiration for one another.
“He was my go-to teammate to talk with about stuff beyond the basketball world,” Korver wrote. “Politics, religion, culture, you name it — Thabo brought a perspective that wasn’t typical of an NBA player. And it’s easy to see why: Before we were teammates in Atlanta, the guy had played professional ball in France, Turkey and Italy. He spoke three languages! Thabo’s mother was from Switzerland, and his father was from South Africa. They lived together in South Africa before Thabo was born, then left because of apartheid.”
“Anyway — on the morning I found out that Thabo had been arrested, want to know what my first thought was? About my friend and teammate? My first thought was: What was Thabo doing out at a club on a back-to-back?? Yeah. Not, How’s he doing? Not, What happened during the arrest?? Not, Something seems off with this story. Nothing like that. Before I knew the full story, and before I’d even had the chance to talk to Thabo… I sort of blamed Thabo.”
A few months later, all charges were dropped against Sefolosha, and he settled with the city over the NYPD’s use of force over him. The whole situation seemed to simply disappear afterward which left Korver uneasy. “I hadn’t been involved in the incident,” he wrote. “I hadn’t even been there. So why did I feel like I’d let my friend down? Why did I feel like I’d let myself down?”
4. Korver is Aware He Looks More Like NBA Fans than Fellow NBA Players.
He wrote: “There’s an elephant in the room that I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks. It’s the fact that, demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court.
“I’ve really started to recognize the role those demographics play in my privilege. It’s like — I may be Thabo’s friend, or Ekpe’s teammate, or Russ’s colleague; I may work with those guys. And I absolutely 100% stand with them. But I look like the other guy. And whether I like it or not? I’m beginning to understand how that means something.”
“No matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color… I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.”
5. NBA Players are Tired of Having this Conversation
During the team meeting after Westbrook was fined, Korver realized this was unfortunately, not likely the last time they’d have to have this kind of conversation about racism. “One big thing that got brought up a lot in the meeting was how incidents like this — they weren’t only about the people directly involved. This wasn’t only about Russ and some heckler. It was about more than that.”
Korver wrote that 75% of the NBA are people of color. “They built this league. They’ve grown this league. People of color have made this league into what it is today. And I guess I just wanted to say that if you can’t find it in your heart to support them — now? And I mean actively support them? If the best that you can do for their cause is to passively ‘tolerate’ it? If that’s the standard we’re going to hold ourselves to — to blend in, and opt out? Well, that’s not good enough. It’s not even close.”