As a white man, former NBA sharpshooter Kyle Korver does not have the same life experiences as his former Black teammates and coaches. In recent years, though, Korver has tried to become an advocate for racial justice causes.
So while mulling whether he will pursue extending his 17-year NBA career, Korver has committed toward making regular appearances on TNT's "The Arena," an NBA show that includes host Cari Champion and various guests talking in depth about social justice topics. After debuting last summer, "The Arena" will air on Thursday this month before TNT's NBA games.
Korver talked to USA TODAY Sports about his new role, being part of the Milwaukee Bucks' walkout last summer to protest Jacob Blake's shooting and his Players Tribune article that detailed his efforts with recognizing his white privilege and promoting racial justice causes.
The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Kyle Korver said he's always been willing to offer a different perspective on race and equality issues. (Photo: Getty Images)
How did the gig with "The Arena" come to be?
Korver: "My neighbor from across the street had a small little social distanced gathering with a few couples [in Atlanta]. Craig [Barry], (TNT's EVP of chief content officer) asked if I’d be interested. It was really kind of a random setup. This is a space that I’ve tried to be thoughtful and step into as well as I can. I’ve never really thought that I would do television. But I certainly am open to being helpful in whatever ways that I can. Before you know it, I was showing up to the office at TNT trying to do my first live television show with "Race in America" from a white man’s perspective. Nothing like jumping full speed in.
How have you tried to use your platform as a white person?
Korver: "I believe as a white man in America, I certainly have a role in these conversations. I’ve been careful with how you speak, where you speak and what you say. The first thing you try to do is do a lot of listening and you try to amplify other voices and understand people that are marginalized in all these different spaces. At some point, you need to step up and speak out. I think the last few years it’s been a journey of me trying to find my voice and figure out the things that are helpful for me to say.
"Honestly, I feel like most of the important conversations I’m going to have are with other white people. How do you do that? That’s something you’re always wrestling with and the public is trying to figure out what that best looks like and sounds like. I try to speak from someone that understands I have privilege. I have a lot to learn and unlearn. I’m not an expert. But I’m someone who cares a great deal. I try to approach that kind of messaging forward. I don’t think it’s helpful as a white man to say, 'I’ve been with the movement and this is what needs to happen.' One of the most important things we can do is say, ‘Hey, this is where even if I’ve been in diverse communities and have been in the NBA for a lot of years, I still have plenty of blind spots.’ No matter where you’re at on this journey as a white man, there’s so much for me to learn and so much that I don’t understand and cannot see right now. But it’s important to just say that. At the same time, try to step into a lot of the stages where Black people are just tired of answering certain questions. They shouldn’t have to keep answering the same questions. We need to step in front of them and try to take a lot of that on.
“I think the last few years it’s been a journey of me trying to find my voice and figure out the things that are helpful for me to say. Honestly, I feel like most of the important conversations I’m going to have are with other white people. … I try to speak from someone that understands I have privilege.”
Take me back to when the Bucks staged the walkout in the bubble following the Jacob Blake shooting. How did that play out internally with deciding whether to play or not?
Korver: "Our team, like a lot of teams, were having conversations about this. When you’re in the bubble, everyone was trying to be thoughtful in their interviews. Obviously, there were all kinds of signage. But we kept asking how can we stand for what we believe in? A lot of guys didn’t really want to go to the bubble to play. The driving point to go to the bubble was to use this platform and to amp up our voices and be strong in our messaging.
"So for us, when we were in the bubble and doing all of these things and then Jacob Blake gets shot and you’re watching these videos online with the young white kid going down the street with a gun, it was hard to take in. Is any of this really doing anything or working? We’re hearing so much on how the [television] ratings are down and no one is following us because we’re making a stand. I think in the back of your mind, you’re wondering what has to happen for people to have this conversation go to a deeper place?
"People were feeling that guys were performing really well in the bubble, and that was taking up a lot of the attention. So there was angst and a lot of frustration going on across the board. In that moment, we hadn’t really talked about sitting out. But George Hill decided he wasn’t going to play. He wasn’t making a big statement about it. But Coach (Mike Budenholzer) decided it was fine for him to sit out that day because emotionally he just wasn’t in it. Then Sterling [Brown] saw that. A lot of people heard about Sterling’s case by now with his open case with police in Milwaukee where he was assaulted and arrested for no reason. So he stood with George, and they presented it to us and said, ‘This is what you’re going to do; you guys are welcome to join us if you want.’ There wasn’t a lot of time left on the court. There wasn’t a ton of time to talk it out. But we didn’t really need to have a conversation. We said, ‘We agree; we’re with you.’ We’re making a decision in real time with the clock running down.
"So then it became, 'What are you going to do with this moment?' We ended up getting on the phone with a bunch of different people with the government in Wisconsin and ended up talking to Jacob Blake’s family. Through all the protests during the pandemic, the [state government] told us they hadn’t really talked about what people were saying and what they were asking for and what people were experiencing [with racism]. That was really hard for us to take in. That was part of our challenge and our statement, saying, ‘We want better from you guys. We want you to listen. You said Black lives matter. Well, this is what they’re saying! How are you not hearing what your people have to say? By not meeting, you are saying what they’re saying doesn’t matter enough to even meet. That was our hearts. We didn’t know what was going to happen with the rest of the league. We didn’t know that Orlando was going to do what it did and the rest of the teams would do what it did. And other sports leagues. But ultimately, together that made a really strong statement and that extended the conversation.
Milwaukee decided not to play in their Aug. 26 playoff game against the Orlando Magic. to protest systemic racism and police brutality after shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. It led to the postponement of the rest of that day's playoff games. (Photo: Ashley Landis, USA TODAY Sports)
You made the comment on "The Arena" that doing this spontaneously rather than having a coordinated effort may have been more effective. Why did you see that?
Korver: "I don’t want to overspeak on that. The bubble was a big effort to put on. That was thousands of hours and lots of dollars. So in that regard, you can understand everyone was trying to figure out how do we do both? … Sometimes, you can try to work your way into bigger ideas or figure there are a lot of options. In that moment, there weren’t a lot of options for us. Are you going to play or are you not? It made things simpler."
What was the process for you in recognizing your blind spots regarding Thabo Sefolosha's incident with police, Russell Westbrook's interaction with a Utah Jazz fan and then writing about this for the Players' Tribune?
Korver: "I think the first early years when I was in Atlanta, we had a bunch of stories play out on our team, Thabo and our city. I was born in Paramount, Calif., where I was the minority. Then I moved to Pella, Iowa, a small town with 10,000 white people. Then I went to Creighton and there’s some more diversity. My rookie year, I’m the only white guy on the team in Philadelphia. A few years later, I get traded to the Jazz and played in one of the whitest cities in America. I just feel like I’ve been bouncing back and forth between being a minority and the majority. Because of that, I always assumed I don’t understand everything. I feel like I kind of get it and don’t think I’m part of the problem in any way. In that year, when all of those stories are coming out, I’m having one set of conversations with my white friends and a different set of conversations with my Black friends around Black Lives Matter and issues that are coming up.
"Even though I’ve lived in so much diversity and have physically and emotionally gone to my limits to be on diverse teams, I still have all of these blind spots. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was blown in those moments. How did I not see? How could I have such little understanding? If I can be in all of these circles, and yet have all of these blind spots, how can I expect other people to have a better understanding? What if there is an opportunity for me to speak out and speak to those people? That seed was planted in me. Then I kept a journal about it for three or four years wondering, ‘What does this look like? What does my voice sound like? What should I say?’ Ultimately, I felt like I need to tell my own story. I can’t tell people what to think. But I can tell people where I have been. They are not fun stories to tell. They’re a bit embarrassing. But sharing that is the best way hopefully to be a bridge to other people."
To what extent have you had talks about signing with an NBA team this season?
Korver: "I’m not sure. I’ve talked to a few teams about it. Coming out of the bubble, I believe in honoring the game. I believe you honor the season with a good offseason. Coming out of the bubble with the quick turnaround, I didn’t feel I really did that. So I don’t want to cheat the game. If I want to go play, I want to go play well. I haven’t signed any paperwork. My wife asks me this question every day. It’s one I have a hard time finding my exact words for. So I haven’t signed paperwork yet. I’ve enjoyed being with my family, and it’s been a challenging season across the board for the league and for the players. But we’ll see. I don’t know."
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