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SALT LAKE CITY — Kyle Korver recalled a story from his first NBA season playing in Philadelphia. A story that ended with him laying down in a shower as cold water rained down on him.
“I was so incredibly ... sad,” Korver said during his commencement speech at Creighton University on Saturday. “And then I got mad at myself. What was wrong with me? I'd made the NBA. I was living the dream I'd had as a kid. I had all the comforts that success can get you. And I was only 23 years old.
"But I felt empty. I was anxious. I was miserable. I didn't like the person I was seeing in the mirror. Why wasn't this enough? Shouldn't everything be smooth sailing now? It was a pathetic scene.”
That moment served as the catalyst to what Korver would become — the humanitarian, the philanthropist, and someone who speaks out against inequality. It was that morning 15 years ago that he realized that basketball might be what he does, but it wasn’t what he wanted to define him.
“Sitting on the floor that day in the shower, I didn't have any good answers,” Korver said. “But something shifted in my heart when I realized something was missing from this dream I was chasing. I'm 38 years old now and I'm still searching and redefining who I want to be and the impact I hope to have outside of basketball.”
Korver may have started his speech talking about basketball — joking about how Doug McDermott broke all his Creighton records (“Come get an NBA record, Doug.”) or how his best advice was not to shoot the ball (“Shoot it to make it — and that, Class of 2019, is what I got for you. Thanks for having me. Congrats”) — but it sure didn’t end there.
He quoted second-century saint, Saint Irenaeus, historian Howard Zinn, and even his own grandfather, who is a retired pastor. All of it as part of advice of helping the members of the graduating class to not only find their voice, but to use it.
The same way that he has tried to use his.
In April, Korver published an essay in the Players’ Tribune about racism and white privilege. On Saturday, he gave some insights about what led him to write it.
You can watch @KyleKorver's commencement address on the livestream here: https://t.co/50xFYx6EIT— Creighton University (@Creighton) May 18, 2019
The afternoon ceremony is about to start! #CreightonGradpic.twitter.com/mrm5xhkJCA
“I wanted to say two things that had been on my mind for a long time,” Korver said. “One: That I, Kyle Korver, a white man, have so many advantages in America just because of the color of my skin. And two: I wanted to encourage a conversation, among white people, about privilege; a conversation that is uncomfortable and often avoided.”
“As the recipients of so much privilege, white people have the opportunity to not just oppose racism and inequality, but to actively work to find solutions. And I hope in some small way it reached people who want to join this conversation.”
Years before, it was easy to ignore the systemic racism that was all around him — now, he felt like he couldn’t be silent anymore.
“It was important to me to begin to engage the parts of myself that were uncomfortable,” said Korver while admitting that he was far from an expert on the topic. “And to be someone who cares. And to act like someone who cares, who doesn't just sit and tolerate things that feel wrong, you know? Who doesn't ignore others in pain — especially if you can do something. Who doesn't accept the lie that some people are more deserving of dignity and opportunity than others.”
But with a long NBA career, stories from his playing days were bound to come up, too.
Korver said that during his first season Hall-of-Fame point guard Allen Iverson told him that “shooters shoot the ball” — advice that Korver has used to carve out a 16-year NBA career.
Oh, and there was the time he was drafted — and quickly traded.
He watched the 2003 draft from his dorm room at Creighton surrounded by friends and a news camera. It wasn’t until after the final commercial break that he finally saw his name scroll across the bottom — he had been drafted with the 51st pick by the Nets. But he never played for them.
“I found out shortly after that I had been traded to Philly,” Korver said. “I'm not sure if trade is the right word. I was more or less sold.”
He was traded for cash. Money, he would later find out, that was used to pay for the Nets’ summer league squad’s entrance fee — and a copy machine.
“That’s a true story,” Korver said. “They spent the leftover money on a new copy machine. What's your trade value? Mine was apparently a copy machine. But it's OK. A few years back, that copy machine broke — and I'm still playing.”
But that's not all he's doing.