Kyle Korver will likely go down in NBA history as one of the greatest long-distance shooters the game has ever seen. Going into the 2016-17 season, he ranks eighth on the all-time three-point field goal chart (1,887) and still holds the record for highest three-point percentage in a season (53.6%). Korver also held the record for most consecutive games with a three-point field goal (127) until Stephen Curry surpassed that mark in February of 2016.
Here’s the strange thing: Outside of the NBA circle, Korver isn’t exactly a household name despite his consistent ability to light it up from behind the arc. Perhaps it’s because he played in relative obscurity at Creighton—a mid-major private school in the middle of Iowa—and has donned five different jerseys in his sixteen-plus years in the league. Regardless of the reasons, the laid back Midwesterner is content to play his role and be the best teammate possible.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Korver talks about his unique path to the NBA, how he maintains his integrity amid the tumultuous pro sports culture, and how he deals with the uncertainty that comes with the profession:
Chad Bonham: Tell me about your journey from a college program like Creighton to a lengthy career in the NBA.
Kyle Korver: When I graduated from Creighton, my whole goal was to make the NBA. That was the plan. I went to school. I got an education. I graduated. I took care of all the other stuff too, but the plan was always to go to the NBA. It wasn’t until the pre-draft workouts that I had any doubts at all. All of the sudden, my back started bothering me during the workouts. Some of them went well and some of them didn’t. But for the first time, I had doubts that maybe this wouldn’t happen. My dad woke up the morning of my graduation at Creighton and he felt God prompt him to pray Proverbs 3:5-6 over me: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” So he gets up and prays and goes back to bed.
The next morning, my mom gives him my graduation card to sign and inside the card at the bottom the verse Proverbs 3:5-6 was printed there. He really took that as a sign that he was supposed to pass that story on to me. It meant the world to me. That whole two-month span from graduation to the NBA draft, I prayed that verse 20 times a day. When the draft came, I barely got picked. It was in the second round and I was the 51st overall pick out of 58. I got picked during a commercial break. I got picked by New Jersey and that same night was traded to Philadelphia. That was the last place I wanted to play. I did not want to go to Philly. It wasn’t anything about the team or the coach. It was just the style of play and I wasn’t comfortable moving to the East Coast.
But then my dad was praying for me in his office the next month. His office was also my youngest brother’s bedroom at the time, which was decorated with sports posters and some of our old trophies and plaques. So he looks up at the wall and sees a picture of me walking off the court on senior night at Creighton. I was pointing to my family in the crowd. Someone had taken the picture and blown it up and framed it for my parents. The way the picture was positioned, I was pointing towards the back of my brother’s door. And on the back of the door was a poster of Allen Iverson playing with the Philadelphia 76ers. When my dad told me the story, I was like, “Alright.” It wasn’t the situation I wanted but I worked hard and stuck to the principles I’d lived by to that point. I had to lift weights. I had to take care of my body. I had to get enough sleep. I had to lace up my shoes right every day.
Bonham: How has your Christian faith empowered you to exist in the pro sports culture while maintaining your integrity?
Korver: In our natural makeup, we’re programmed to do things right. I feel like that’s the way God created us. And if we can stay true to that, knowing what’s right and wrong, what’s good and evil, is that much easier to see and it makes it that much easier to choose the right path. I don’t think anyone needs an incredible story to see that. If you’re able to keep it simple and to choose the right path, you feel better about yourself and you have peace in your soul. Deep down, that’s what everybody wants, but we can get caught up in this world and we forget how to do things right. There’s so much stuff going on and so many possibilities and it’s easy to get sidetracked. But when you can keep it simple and when you can focus on what’s important and do the simple things well, it just sets up everything else.
Bonham: What intentional steps have you taken to protect your Christian witness?
Korver: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the people you surround yourself with is who you’re going to become. You’ve got to find good people that are like minded and will build you up and not tear you down. As humans we’re only so strong. If you put yourself in enough bad situations, you will fail eventually. That’s the lesson I’ve learned over a lot of years of making good decisions and making mistakes. If you focus on what’s important and you do things right and you ask for guidance, those things do all work out. And you are led. And you are directed. And your path is revealed. But it’s matter of taking the path when it is revealed.
Bonham: You’ve developed a reputation over the years as a player who puts in a lot of work during practice and beyond what is expected. Why is that?
Korver: When I was in college, I’d stay up late to shoot around in the gym or stay late after practice. It wasn’t to impress the coach. It wasn’t to be in good favor with him. I didn’t just do it when he was around so he could hear the ball bouncing in the gym. I went because I loved it and because it was fun and there was a joy in it. The good things in life, you have to work for; the things that mean something, the things that you cherish in life. You can enjoy the final product but it’s better to be able to look back at the process and feel proud about how you got there. That means more than actually getting what you got. When I look at my career, I’m not the most athletic guy on the floor. But I feel like I’ve worked harder to get to this level than the majority of the players. I take pride in that. People ask me what my goal is in basketball and I just want to squeeze every ounce of potential that I have out of me. I look at a lot of guys that are just naturally gifted and good for them. But they didn’t have to work as hard to get there. I feel like they lose out on part of the satisfaction of making it to the NBA. There’s a sense of pride when it’s all said and done and you can look back and say that it was with blood, sweat and tears and you didn’t cut corners. You gave it your all. Doing what is right means sometimes having to make the tougher decisions and maybe choosing a more difficult path. But in the end, there’s a satisfaction in knowing you went through all of that to get there. There’s a certain level of satisfaction and joy when you do it that way. There aren’t the ulterior motives. There isn’t all of that other junk that comes into sports. It’s just keeping it simple, doing what is right, and enjoying it. People who play basketball have received God given gifts like athletic ability or hand-eye coordination. Using that in its purest form is fun for that person. To have a gift and to use it well is fun.
Bonham: How do you handle the uncertainty of being a professional athlete—things like getting traded, dealing with free agency, and overcoming injuries?
Korver: It’s not always the easy road. But it comes down to whether or not you trust that God has a plan for you. It’s so easy to see a situation or see a goal and work out in your mind the exact steps you need to take to reach that goal. But that’s not always the path that God has for you. Like they say, ‘When you pray, expect the unexpected.’ God always works things out in ways that we don’t always expect. Part of that is God’s sense of humor but in the end when He sees that you trusted Him, He will reward you. Are you 100 percent willing to admit that everything you have is loaned, it’s not owned. Whatever God has for you, you’re okay with that. Everyone has goals and everyone has ambitions and things they want in life. But if you don’t have peace in your soul, you don’t really enjoy any of it.
(Photo: NBA Images; Team USA)