"You can't help but notice it," says another teammate, Ronnie Price. "At first we messed with him about it, but you could see he gets tired of it."
It's not just Utah fans who have fallen for the 27-year-old Korver. He was widely considered the second most popular player during his four-plus seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers behind superstar Allen Iverson, and he earned heartthrob status when he played in the collegiate ranks for Creighton.
His mother, Laine, sat in the stands at Creighton, taking in the signs addressed to her son Kyle, will you marry my daughter? and was aghast. "I wondered, 'Is this really happening?"' says Laine.
Observers offer all sorts of explanations for Korver's popularity. There is his pure shooting stroke from three-point range (40 percent), the NBA's version of the home run. Kevin O'Connor, the vice president of basketball operations, says Korver's popularity is due in part to the team's record "The team has done very well," he says, "and fans recognize that he loves to play." Connor was so smitten with Korver as a player, not a heartthrob that he tried to trade for him more than a year ago, but the Sixers wouldn't let him go.
A couple of observers attribute Korver's immense popularity to skin color. "Look at Utah's demographics," says one team official, but that ignores Korver's popularity in Philadelphia.
Of course the other factor in Korver's popularity is his rock-star look, with his long hair carefully combed down to the eyebrows, where it takes a sharp left turn to his ears and then another decline to his earlobe .... In college, he wearied of questions about his looks and frequent comparisons to actor Ashton Kutcher, and he probably regretted that he ever revealed that he streaked blond highlights into his 'do ("Do we have to talk about the hair?" he would say).
"He hated the comparisons to Ashton Kutcher," says his mother. "That wasn't him."
None of it is, really. When Korver fielded a question about his popularity while walking to his car after a practice last week, he stopped and leaned against a wall in a dark hallway. He paused momentarily before he answered. He is, by nature, a deep, introspective type, which is why his brothers gave him a replica statue of Rodin's famous "The Thinker" last Christmas. Rather than toss off answers by rote, he often thinks out careful replies.
"As you become successful, it happens more," he says. "Lots of it comes with the territory. I've seen a lot of teammates who were not pretty leave a game with a pretty girl.
"The first time you experience some of that stuff it feels good," he continues. "Everyone wants to be liked. It's easy to get caught up in it. Pretty soon, you have to step back. Not to sound ungrateful a lot of people do really care about you. Others want to put your picture in MySpace and say they know you.
"It makes you very cautious. It takes a lot to win me over. I feel like I'm a pretty good judge of character because I've had to judge a lot of characters."
Korver, the deeply religious son of an Iowa pastor, experienced an epiphany during his rookie year. After dreaming of playing in the NBA for most of his life, he found it empty and surprisingly unsatisfying. Was he getting caught up in the NBA lifestyle? Would it change him?
"I grew up with certain values," he says. "I had to find common ground. I was hanging with this group and then that group. I felt lost. Who am I? It wasn't like I thought it would be. There was no joy. It can wear on you. The people you end up hanging out with are the people you become. I didn't feel fulfilled. All the attention and the money it doesn't bring joy. There's always something more. I woke up one morning my rookie year and thought, this isn't doing it for me."
Korver pulled back. He surrounded himself with friends who had no connection with basketball and used his celebrity to aid charities (coat drives, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) and to help inner-city kids in Philadelphia in secret, as much as possible and paid a tithe to his church and then some.
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