Utah Jazz’s Kyle Korver writes about white privilege and racism in the NBA, including the Westbrook incident

The 38-year-old’s Players’ Tribune piece addresses systemic racial issues and how white men need to hold each other accountable.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard-forward Kyle Korver has become one of the Top 5 shooters in the history of the game.

Kyle Korver wants you to know that he’s determined to listen. And he would like you to do the same. On Monday, the Utah Jazz sharpshooter posted a 2,700-word first-person essay on The Players’ Tribune about racism in the United States and in pro basketball.

Korver’s account entitled, “Privileged,” details how the 38-year-old wants to do his part in addressing systemic racism, and it comes after a highly publicized encounter on the Jazz’s home court between a white fan and Russell Westbrook, the superstar Oklahoma City Thunder guard.

Instead of letting the headlines of the last month drift away, Korver took a very raw, emotional approach to getting his points across. His essay begins with his mindset after teammate Thabo Sefolosha suffered a broken leg during an arrest in 2015 when they were both playing for the Atlanta Hawks. Korver recalls how, at the time, he felt Sefolosha was at fault for putting himself in a bad situation.

“Cringe,” Korver wrote.

Exactly four years ago, Sefolosha suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage during an arrest and missed Atlanta’s run to the conference finals that year after officers claimed he was interfering with a crime scene. In October 2015, a jury acquitted Sefolosha of misdemeanor counts of obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. In April 2017, the New York City Law Department confirmed a $4 million settlement for Sefolosha after he filed a lawsuit.

Looking back on it now, Korver wrote that he felt like he let himself down by not trying to understand the why surrounding Sefolosha’s arrest.

“I probably would’ve been safe on the street that one night in New York. And Thabo wasn’t.”

That was his introduction to the broad and crucial topic that was, yet again, brought into the spotlight last month after Westbrook was involved in an incident with a Jazz fan who shouted racially-charged epithets at the former NBA MVP.

“Everyone was upset,” Korver wrote. “I was upset — and embarrassed, too. But there was another emotion in the room that day, one that was harder to put a finger on. It was almost like….. disappointment, mixed with exhaustion. Guys were just sick and tired of it all.”

The Jazz eventually handed down a lifetime ban to the fan involved. A few days later, the organization issued a retroactive ban to another fan after a video surfaced of him calling Westbrook “boy” during last year’s first-round playoff matchup between the Jazz and Thunder. Korver wrote about an “elephant in the room” that he can’t help but think about lately.

It’s that, demographically, he has more in common with the fans attending your average NBA game than most of the players he’s lining up against. Korver explained that he’s recognizing the role of his own cultural demographics and how they play into a life he describes as being more privileged.

“It’s like — I may be Thabo’s friend, or Ekpe’s [Udoh] teammate, or Russ’s colleague; I may work with those guys. And I absolutely 100% stand with them,” Korver wrote. “But I look like the other guy. And whether I like it or not? I’m beginning to understand how that means something.

“What I’m realizing is, no matter how passionately I commit to being an ally, and no matter how unwavering my support is for NBA and WNBA players of color. ... I’m still in this conversation from the privileged perspective of opting in to it. Which of course means that on the flip side, I could just as easily opt out of it. Every day, I’m given that choice — I’m granted that privilege — based on the color of my skin.”

The piece goes on to describe how Korver, despite all of his efforts to stand up to racism and all of the deep, embedded issues facing people of color, “can also fade into the crowd, and my face can blend in with the faces of those hecklers, any time I want.”

“I have to do my best to recognize when to get out of the way — in order to amplify the voices of marginalized groups that so often get lost,” wrote Korver. “But maybe more than anything? I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable. We all have to hold each other accountable.”

The Players’ Tribune on Monday also released a roundtable video of Korver, Udoh, Sefolosha and Georges Niang discussing the Westbrook incident and how the Jazz locker room dealt with it.

Recalling that night, Udoh said, “It’s just like we’re in a zoo almost. Just perform. Don’t say anything. Just perform and it will be alright. You know, ‘We give y’all this amount of money, just shut up and take it.’ Almost felt like that.”

Sefolosha reiterated that the incident struck a chord with him as a Jazz player, once again making him think that if he didn’t don the Jazz note each game, would he face the sort of insensitive, racially-charged screams that some opponents inside Vivint Smart Home Arena say they’ve endured over the years?

“That’s why it kind of hit home for me,” he said.

Niang agreed.

“I think that’s what hurt most is that they feel comfortable enough to say these degrading things in a place where we’re trying to make something of ourselves and make a name for our families and be role models for so many young kids,” the Jazz forward said.

In his essay, Korver went on to write about how 75 percent of NBA players are athletes of color and people of color built the NBA into what it’s become. They are why it’s such a popular, fan-centric league. He then dove into statistics showing a big disparity among black and white America. Black Americans are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as white Americans. The black imprisonment rate for drug charges is almost six times higher than that of white people picked up on drug charges. Black Americans own one-tenth of the wealth that white Americans own. This matters, says Korver, and it needs to change.

“So if you don’t want to know anything about me, outside of basketball, then listen — I get it. But if you do want to know something? Know I believe that,” Korver wrote. “Know that about me.

"If you’re wearing my jersey at a game? Know that about me. If you’re planning to buy my jersey for someone else ... know that about me. If you’re following me on social media ... know that about me. If you’re coming to Jazz games and rooting for me ... know that about me.

"And if you’re claiming my name, or likeness, for your own cause, in any way….. know that about me. Know that I believe this matters.”