In revealing piece, Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver checks his white privilege
Despite playing in a league where more than 80 percent of its athletes are people of color, Utah Jazz shooting guard Kyle Korver knows that he is still more privileged than most.
In an article for The Players' Tribune, the sharpshooter explained how a 2015 incident involving teammate Thabo Sefolosha and a recent altercation between Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and a fan deepened Korver's understanding of racial inequality in the U.S.
Korver, who previously played with Sefolosha on the Atlanta Hawks between 2014 and 2017, recalled his immediate reaction when he first learned that Sefolosha was arrested outside of a New York City nightclub for allegedly interfering with the police.
"Everyone was pretty upset and confused," Korver wrote. "Well, almost everyone. My response...was different. I'm embarrassed to admit."
Sefolosha was at 1OAK with then-teammate Pero Antic when the two discovered that friend and former NBA player Chris Copeland was stabbed in his left elbow and abdomen just blocks away. Both Sefolosha and Antic attempted to reach Copeland by pushing through a crowd that gathered outside the scene. The two were later arrested for interfering — in the process, police officers broke Sefolosha's leg, ending his season.
"My first thought was: 'What was Thabo doing out at a club on a back-to-back??'" Korver admitted. "Before I knew the full story, and before I'd even had the chance to talk to Thabo...I sort of blamed Thabo."
Though Korver wrote that he later questioned whether he would have been arrested had he been in Sefolosha's shoes, he didn't think much of his own privilege until last month.
In a March game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz, Westbrook got into a heated exchange with a fan who reportedly told him to "get down on [his] knees like [he was] used to." Westbrook responded by threatening both the man and his wife.
"For me, I'm just not going to continue to take disrespect for my family," he told reporters at the time. "I just think there's got to be something done. There's got to be some consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say."
The episode, Korver revealed, upset the Jazz as well. The players had a meeting with team president Steve Starks and recounted stories in which they were similarly heckled. The conversation turned into a much larger talk about racism in the country.
"This wasn't only about Russ and some heckler," Korver wrote. "It was about more than that. It was about what it means just to exist right now — as a person of color in a mostly white space."
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Korver has previously voiced his support for causes such as the End It Movement, which tackles modern day slavery. But the NBA journeyman, who has also played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, wrote that he still finds himself on the outside looking in — at least when it comes to racial issues.
"There's an elephant in the room that I've been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks," Korver wrote. "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."
Fanbase demographic aside, the NBA fares relatively well in recruiting people of color compared to other men's professionals sports leagues, according to a 2018 study by the University of Central Florida. During the 2017-2018 season, 36.4 percent of employees at the NBA League Office were people of color. Thirty percent of the league's head coaches and 20 percent of its general managers were also minorities.
Still, the league has dealt with controversies.
In 2014, TMZ released an audio recording in which then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling told his mistress V. Stiviano not to bring any black people to the team's games. NBA commissioner Adam Silver later forced Sterling to sell the team. That same year, businessman Bruce Levenson sold his stake in the Atlanta Hawks after he disclosed that he had written a racist email about the team's fanbase.
In light of today's politically-charged environment, Korver wrote that he is making more of an effort to "support leaders who see racial justice as fundamental."
"I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable," he wrote. "We all have to hold each other accountable."