SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of the racially charged March 11 incident at Vivint Arena involving Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook and a Utah Jazz fan, Utah wing Kyle Korver on Monday wrote an essay for the Players' Tribune, where he discussed white privilege and denounced racism.
In the essay, Korver shared that he and fellow Jazzman Thabo Sefolosha were teammates on the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 when Sefolosha's leg was broken by police in New York City, and how after the March incident, the Jazz held a team meeting in which a number of players shared experiences of similar race-related incidents happening to them.
"This wasn’t the first time they’d taken part in conversations about race in their NBA careers, and it wasn’t the first time they’d had to address the hateful actions of others," Korver wrote. "And one big thing that got brought up a lot in the meeting was how incidents like this — they weren’t only about the people directly involved. This wasn’t only about Russ and some heckler. 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. It was about racism in America."
Korver noted that as a white man, he has the choice to opt in and out of conversations about race, whereas his black teammates don't usually have that option.
"I realize that now," he wrote. "And maybe in years past, just realizing something would’ve felt like progress. But it’s NOT years past — it’s today. And I know I have to do better. So I’m trying to push myself further. I’m trying to ask myself what I should actually do."
Korver listed four things he's trying to do to become part of the solution to the problems of racism: educating himself on the history of racism in America, listening to others, supporting leaders and policies that champion racial justice and knowing when to get out of the way in order to amplify marginalized voices.
"But maybe more than anything? I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable," Korver wrote. "We all have to hold each other accountable. And we all have to be accountable — period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a 'safe' space for toxic behavior."
Throughout Monday, a large contingent of people involved in the NBA, the greater sports world and other prominent figures shared Korver's piece on Twitter. Among them were Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and numerous Jazz players, including Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
"Salute my brother!!," wrote James, who was Korver's teammate with the Cleveland Cavaliers from January of 2017 to June of 2018. "Means a lot. And like you said I hope people listen, just open your ears and listen."
James added the praying and exclamation point emojis.
In Korver's essay, he touched on the topics of guilt and responsibility, writing, "And I guess I’ve come to realize that when we talk about solutions to systemic racism — police reform, workplace diversity, affirmative action, better access to health care, even reparations? It’s not about guilt. It’s not about pointing fingers, or passing blame. It’s about responsibility."
The NBA veteran then shared two final thoughts. First, how he feels dealing with problems such as loud hecklers is "easier" to denounce than quieter forms of racism.
"But if we’re really going to make a difference as a league, as a community, and as a country on this issue … it’s like I said — I just think we need to push ourselves another step further," he wrote. "First, by identifying that less visible, less obvious behavior as what it is: racism. And then second, by denouncing that racism — actively, and at every level."
Lastly, Korver left a charge to support black NBA players who speak out on race-related issues.
"This feels like a moment to draw a line in the sand," Korver wrote. "I believe that what’s happening to people of color in this country — right now, in 2019 — is wrong … Time for me to shut up and listen."
Mitchell tweeted: "This is amazing!! I’m honored to have you as my teammate and my brother!! Folks please read and inform yourselves," and added the "100" and praying emojis.
Gobert wrote, "Amazing brother …" with three raised fist emojis of different tones.
In addition to Korver's essay, the Players' Tribune also produced a 19-minute video of him, Sefolosha and fellow Jazzmen Ekpe Udoh and Georges Niang discussing the March incident and some of the topics in the essay.
The players praised Jazz owner Gail Miller for swiftly banning the fan from the March incident (as well as another because of a previous incident involving Westbrook last season), but Udoh feels even more can be done moving forward.
"I'm appreciative of what they've done. … They finally put their feet down, but if she can create some type of change — she's a wealthy woman, she can hop on the phone with 29 other owners and other sports owners and try to hold them accountable," Udoh said. "Now that she's put herself out there, I think it's up to the players to hold the organization accountable."
Niang also touched on the topic of people holding each other accountable for their actions.
"We're all humans, and this isn't right and we need to learn how to treat each other better," he said. "I think for us, with the platform that we have, we need to educate, hold each other accountable and have these conversations on what this stuff actually means."77 comments on this story
Sefolosha echoed that thought, saying, "There's no bad time for a conversation like this. I think especially now it's necessary in a lot of ways."
The video concluded with Korver asking how more people of all races can continue to have conversations about these issues.
"This is what's right," he said. "This is what's good. It feels like in Salt Lake a step was made. I don't know how big a step it is at the end of the day, but there was a step, and there was people that felt responsible, and I think that it's going to be powerful.
"I hope it is."