A Sense of Who You Are
Kyle Korver knows his role and takes it seriously.
by Peter A. Coclanis
NBA seasons are long—OK, interminable—and games and story lines often run together. Every once in a while, though, an epiphany of sorts occurs on game night, rendering sublime the otherwise routine. I witnessed one such revelation on March 9 in Charlotte while taking in a game between the Bulls and Bobcats. In order to explain what I saw that night, a bit of context is in order, so let’s take a quick look back at the previous game between the Bulls and Bobcats, which took place on February 15 in Chicago.
The Bulls won that game in Chicago 106-94, led by Luol Deng, who scored 24 points, and Derrick Rose, who pumped in 18 and had 13 assists. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver was a big factor off the bench that night as well, hitting all five of his shots from the floor — including three treys — and knocking down both of his free-throw attempts for 15 points.
The Bobcats’ Stephen Jackson finally found a way to stop Korver that night, via insult after the game rather than solid defense during it. Here’s a sampling of what the ever gracious Jackson had to say about Korver: “You can’t leave him open. Everybody knows he can’t do anything but shoot. When he shoots, he shoots it well. You have to respect him as a shooter. He can’t really do anything else, but if you let him sit out there and shoot he’s going to kill you… You have to make him dribble or try and penetrate which he’s not good at.”
I’m just glad Korver didn’t go 8-8 that night or we really might have heard some smack.
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Cut to Wednesday, March 9 in Charlotte. I arrived at the Times Warner Cable Arena early, as I usually do when I buy tickets from Stubhub (one never knows…). I got to my seat about 6 o’clock for the 7 p.m. tip-off, and the court was pretty much deserted. Except for Kyle Korver on the Bulls’ end of the court and an (unnamed) Bobcat on the opposite end.
From the start, watching Korver was fascinating, even riveting, which is saying a lot because Korver’s game doesn’t have much flash. Working tirelessly, he spent the better part of 30 minutes moving methodically along the three-point line — from left baseline to right — lining up his shots from about 10 stations and hitting eight or nine of 10 from each. Then he spent another 15 minutes working off of simulated screens, catching bullet passes from a ball boy, and draining mid-range jumpers. All the while, the unnamed Bobcat — a freakishly athletic, right-handed, 6-10 baller, who has hit all of four treys in his six-year career in the NBA — spent much of the time clanging left-handed threes from all over the court.
The game that night ended much like the previous game with a one-sided Bulls’ 101-84 victory. Korver wasn’t perfect as a shooter, but was pretty darn close, going 7-10 from the field (4-7 threes) and 2-2 from the line, for 20 points in just 17 minutes of action. All of his baskets reprised what he had done during his pre-game prep. Stephen Jackson, out with a hamstring injury, had a nice view of Korver’s “can’t do anything but shoot” performance, while the Bobcats were chalking up yet another loss. The Bobcats’ unnamed pre-game trey-launcher, recovering from knee surgery, did not play either.
In our bread and circuses age, when the NBA is pushing celebrity games featuring Justin Bieber and competitions featuring players slam-dunking over overmatched and undersized Kias, it’s nice to know that there is still a place for a Kyle Korver, an understated, super disciplined player who knows his limits and hones his craft. Korver would fit in nicely — at least as a sidebar in the chapter on Derrick Rose — in a basketball version of George Will’s classic book on baseball, Men at Work, which profiles very talented players like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripkin who willed themselves even greater through hard work and preparation.
In 1965 John McPhee wrote a famous profile of Bill Bradley entitled “A Sense of Where You are.” I’ve called this piece “A Sense of Who You Are” because Korver seems to know himself and his game pretty well. Maybe he “can’t do anything but shoot,” but would he be a better player if, instead of working with what he has, he got himself suspended for 30 games for brawling in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills or suspended for another seven after being convicted of firing a 9-mm pistol outside at strip club in Indianapolis? Or even by hoisting left-handed treys before a routine road game in Charlotte in early March?
To be sure, Stephen Jackson and the other unnamed Bobcat are good players — players I actually like — and epiphanies reveal something, but not everything. Lots of NBA players work hard, maybe just not in the last hour before a game. But if you are ever fortunate enough to catch Kyle Korver’s pre-game preparation, you’ll understand a lot better how and why he’s had such a nice NBA career.
Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.