November 4, 2010
Kyle Korver is on a path that goes way beyond basketball.
By Stephen Elliott
Five-year-old Kyle Korver sat in a gymnasium watching his father’s youngest brother play on his high school basketball team. He didn’t know he was in a high school, or that there was a difference between high school and college, college and the pros.
He was watching his uncle. The court was a blur of wood, gym shoes, and bright nylon clothing. He knew that one day he was going to play on that floor. The next day he was still imagining the scoreboard and its exaggerated red bubbles when he went out to the backyard. It was the middle of the day; he checked his sweat pants for coins. His parents had put up a small, three-legged basket that he hadn’t, at first, paid much attention to. Kyle threw the ball at the basket then chased it down. Then he threw the ball again, and again, and again. It was the 1980s, it was LA. Purple and yellow. Showtime. The team was spectacular. Kyle watched every game and practiced every chance he got. “It was like my desire was so great,” he says. “I was going to do whatever it took. I was going to get there. Even though I didn’t understand the actual path that was my plan the whole time.”
Around third grade he joined a basketball league. He had to join the league that played on Saturdays; Sunday was for church. It was the only restriction his father, the church pastor, placed on him. Kyle and the other kids played ball in the church parking lot, throwing no look passes, trick shots. Sometimes they played in suits, trying not to get their nice clothes dirty. Sometimes the heat was oppressive and they were children in a valley, and the asphalt merged with sky punctuated by an orange rim until someone yelled for them to come inside.
Then in sixth grade the family moved to Iowa and everything changed. In Iowa Kyle joined a team coached by his Uncle Carl. Carl wasn’t impressed with fancy passes or trick shots. Carl wasn’t interested in what was impressive at the back of a church. Kyle Korver wasn’t “Showtime,” and he never would be. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t be great, that he couldn’t make the most of what he had, that he couldn’t reach the end of, even surpass, his own limitations. The point was to strive, to work, the journey becoming the destination.
“He taught me fundamentals. Shell drill, how to break a press, how to set screens, how to use screens. He totally broke me down, took out all the junk habits I’d picked up playing in the parking lot. I was small, late to mature, so I played point guard. He taught me how to run an offense. I used to think he was a mean uncle, but it was actually the real turning point for me as a basketball player because now I have to rely on those things. I’m not athletic enough to rely on fancy shots.”
In high school Kyle was hardly recruited at all, with one important exception, Creighton. Altman saw something the other coaches missed and Korver rewarded Altman by being the first player in Creighton history to go to the NCAA tournament four years in a row. “Altman was a great coach,” Korver says. “I was lucky. He was the kind of coach that focused on the things you could do, not the things you couldn’t.” Korver became the leader in his junior year when there were no seniors on the team. As a senior he averaged 18 points a game, hitting 48% from three point range as well as being named the Conference MVP and a Second Team All American.
At the end of his senior year, thirty people crowded into Kyle’s room to watch the NBA draft. A lot of teams had recognized his value and said they were going to recruit him. But the room was quiet as the first round ended. It got even more quiet as the second round progressed and still Kyle’s name wasn’t called. With three picks left in the draft the station cut to a commercial break. When they came back the name of the last three picks floated across the screen. Kyle was there. The room erupted. He was drafted by New Jersey then traded to Philly “for a cold drink and a box of donuts.”
In his second year he became a starter. He ended up playing for the Philadelphia four and a half years. He was a local hero in Philly, participating in charity organizations. He teamed up with the Philadelphia Helping Hands Mission, running programs for kids. “Tutoring sessions, sports camp, bible study. There’s stuff going on every day.”
At the same time he was improving as a basketball player. His quick release from beyond three point range was almost impossible to stop. By his second year he was averaging more than eleven points a game. By his fourth he was over fourteen.
Then one day, early in the morning of his fifth year, Kyle got a phone call in his hotel from his General Manager. They’d just won a game the night before. It was 8 a.m. Kyle had been traded. He flew to Utah a couple of hours later, moved into a hotel for a month and a half, asked his friends to pack up his house. “When I was traded to the Utah all I could think about was they didn’t want me anymore.” Then he got a call from his friend Chris Weber. “Chris told me it’s not that they don’t want you, it’s that someone else wants you more. You have to be excited about where you’re going. Chris really helped me out.”
In Utah he started another charitable foundation. Teaming up with a contractor he started the Kyle Korver Foundation. They would help low income people with necessary improvements to their homes. “We probably put in 30 handicap ramps in the last month, for free,” Kyle says. “It’s really just me and my friends. That’s the best part about it. We haven’t brought on companies. We’re not sponsored by anyone. We just try to use whatever gifts we have to help people out. We don’t have a game plan; we just kind of feel like God is leading us.”
This year he’s heading over to Chicago. “It’s amazing to walk in that stadium. All the jerseys, and championships.” While still lacking a superstar, Chicago has a good, young team with a lot of pieces falling into place. When asked about his best moment as a pro Kyle says it’s yet to happen. “I’ve had a few buzzer beaters. But I feel like my best moment is yet to come. I want it to be a run deep in the playoffs, several shots that you had to hit to win a game.”
Kyle Korver Foundation
Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books including The Adderall Diaries. In 95/96 he saw twelve of the Bulls’ 72 wins at the United Center in Chicago. In 2008 he missed an opportunity to meet Michael Jordan, choosing to attend an interview with a Portland college radio station.