This story originally appeared in FCA Magazine’s January/February 2015 issue. Subscribe today!
When coaches, teammates and opposing players talk about Kyle Korver, they usually mention his long-range shooting ability or how he reinvented himself into a well-rounded, pick-and-roll specialist .
But—over the course of his NBA career—it’s Korver’s character, integrity and ever-deepening relationship with Christ that will impact the NBA for years to come, far more than any praise stemming from his on-court achievements.
"Kyle's one of the most professional, high-character players I've ever been around."
-Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer
“Character matters, and having high-character people within your organization is something we all strive for,” said Andy Birdsong, Atlanta Hawks' manager of basketball operations. “A person’s character drives who they are, and that in turn plays into their ability.”
Others see it, too.
“I was at the game when Kyle broke Dana Barros’ record of 89 straight games with a 3,” said Brad Jones, pastor of community and students at Atlanta’s Passion City Church, where the Korver family attends. “My favorite part was watching Kyle’s teammates work hard to get him the ball and then celebrate after he hit the 3-pointer.
“His teammates were more fired up than he was, which says a lot about Kyle and shows how much they value him as a player and respect him.”
With the on-court success Korver has had, it’d be understandable if he looked to it alone for his worth and value. However, the humble sharpshooter would rather use his accomplishments as a platform to serve others on both a local and global level.
Besides, he said, he has no idea why God’s put him in this position.
“I ask myself ‘why’ all the time,” Korver said. “I was never a basketball prodigy growing up. I was just the tall, lanky, pigeon-toed gym rat. But I know without a doubt that I’m still playing basketball by the grace of God.
“I don't know exactly what His plans are for my life, and I don't know why He’s given me the opportunities He has, but I’m grateful for them. I'm going to do my best to honor Him with everything that comes from them.”
In a community of opulence, fast cars and big bank accounts, serving others is what helps keep Korver and his family focused on what’s truly important.
“It’s easy to get caught up in stupid, vain stuff, [like] wearing certain clothes or buying certain cars," Korver said. “How you spend money and what you invest in—those are big questions. It’s also easy to start thinking you’re more important than you are, but that’s why true community is so important to us.”
Korver and his three younger brothers (Kaleb, Klayton and Kirk) grew up in basketball-crazed Pella, Iowa.
His father (Kevin) and mother (Laine) each played at Pella’s Central College—where Laine once scored 74 points in a high school game. But as big as basketball has been in their lives, the Korver family’s bloodlines belong to Christ alone.
“My dad, grandpa and a couple of my uncles were pastors, and I grew up with so many godly examples to look up to in addition to them,” Kyle said. “What a gift that was for me.”
But no gift, Kyle said, could be greater than having his dad teach him about Christ.
“I don't think a young man could ask for a better gift,” he said, “than an incredible example for life from his father.”
Following a prep career at Pella High School (where his number was retired in 2006), Kyle played four seasons at Creighton University, averaging 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds and draining more than 45 percent of his 3-point attempts, eventually earning Second Team All-America honors his senior year.
He realized his professional hoop dreams in June 2003 when the New Jersey Nets drafted him in the second round. Following a draft-night trade, Kyle moved to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he spent his first four and a half seasons. Once a Huddle leader at Pella High, Kyle also began to rekindle a relationship with Christ and FCA upon meeting Sixers chaplain (and FCA Area Director) Kevin Harvey.
“My first impression of Kyle was that he was a polite, down-to-earth ‘good guy’ who wasn’t really on fire for Christ,” said Harvey, who’s now in his 18th year as South Jersey FCA Area Director and 14th as team chaplain. “At that time, I think Kyle was working through all the expectations and challenges of being a ‘PK’ (pastor’s kid), as well as finding his own identity.
"As I've seen Kyle gain status in the league, I've seen him stay grounded and become more and more dependent on Christ."
-Kevin Harvey, FCA/76ers Chaplain
Kyle began to study the Word and became more thoughtful in his approach to God, life and pro basketball. At the end of his rookie season—one in which he ranked second among all rookies in 3-point percentage—Kyle refocused his life on Christ and grew more serious about his walk with Him.
“Over the years, I really saw Kyle begin to grow in his hunger for the Lord,” Harvey said. “God was developing Kyle into a man who was called to be set apart for Christ as a visible example of what a Christ-follower—who happens to play NBA basketball—looks like.”
Kyle’s friendly demeanor, good looks and propensity to hit big shots from beyond the arc made him a fan favorite in Philly. While adjusting to the rigors of an NBA schedule, Kyle focused more and more on the Lord. He regularly attended the Sixers’ chapel and began volunteering his time at FCA Power Camps, outreaches and banquets—he even showed up at a local Chick-fil-A to sign autographs to help raise funds for the ministry.
“I always appreciated Kyle’s humble spirit, even when his goofy chaplain asked him to do something he probably didn’t want to do,” Harvey laughed. “Oftentimes with athletes, increased popularity and exposure lead guys away from their convictions, but, as I’ve seen Kyle gain status in the league, I’ve seen him stay grounded and become more and more dependent on Christ.”
In 2006, a chance encounter on the streets of one of Philadelphia’s tougher neighborhoods sparked what would eventually become the Kyle Korver Foundation.
“I had become part of a Bible study that met in a tough neighborhood in north Philly,” Kyle said. “At one of our first studies, some neighborhood kids starting throwing apples at us. Then, another day, a few of us were playing catch with a football and the same kids walked up asking to play.
“They talked trash, we talked trash back, and everyone had a great time. We showed up early the next Tuesday night hoping they’d come back, and they did. Basketball, football, wiffle ball, pitch quarters—you name it, we did it. We put up some basketball hoops at their school, and the principal welcomed us to their classrooms. They started sharing their lives with us, and we listened.”
Today, that same study group still shows up each Tuesday to work with kindergarteners through eighth graders, and on Wednesdays for a high school night.
“We still listen, and they still talk trash, but now we also talk about schoolwork during tutoring sessions,” Kyle said. “We still talk sports, but now it’s during soccer and basketball camps.
“We promote creativity through arts, crafts and games. We’re renovating the Helping Hands mission so boys and girls have a safe place where they can study, play, relax or do whatever they want.”
Next, the Kyle Korver Foundation turned its focus to Omaha, Nebraska—home to Creighton and, like Philadelphia, a city that has greatly impacted Kyle’s life.
“When I was in school, we used to do our preseason conditioning on a track near the local Boys & Girls Club,” Kyle said. “One day, we showed up to run ourselves ragged and noticed a bunch of kids sitting on the front steps waiting for rides. When we left, they were still there. Their parents were all tied up.”
So Korver—along with a few ex-Creighton teammates and other friends from college—started a golf fundraiser that raised enough money to buy vans to transport club members to and from the center.
Bringing It Home: The Simple Life
From my first organized youth basketball practice to my days currently in the NBA, my coaches have always preached the fundamentals. They’re so simple, yet they have a profound impact on how well I play the game. Read more“At the Foundation, we believe a grassroots, individualistic approach is the way to enact change,” Kyle said. “One child, one family, one class, one school, one neighborhood, one city. That’s it.”
In December 2007, Kyle was traded to Utah, where he spent two and a half seasons with the Jazz in a hired-gun, 3-point-specialist role. His community work continued in Salt Lake City, as he helped start People Builders Utah, a not-for-profit construction group born from a single phone call from a 16-year-old girl dealing with cerebral palsy who needed a wheelchair-accessible ramp at her home.
The People Builders team began to hear from more Utah families in need, all without the financial ability to build a ramp themselves. (To make matters worse, most insurance companies won’t cover construction costs.)
“Ramps—not so glamorous, but it was the need,” said Brad Mepham, director of operations for People Builders Utah. “So we started, and the stories we heard were overwhelming."
"Many were so similar," Mepham said. "Life was going along at a nice clip but, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Sickness, degenerative disease, permanent injury from an accident, or something as beautiful as a new child born with a disability, and then there’s a family trying to figure out how to cope and move on in their new circumstances."
"I was never a basketball prodigy growing up...but I know without a doubt that I'm still playing basketball by the grace of God."
To date, People Builders has built and installed more than 150 ramps at no cost to the families.
Another time, Kyle returned to Omaha for a Foundation event and crossed paths with Josh Dotzler, another Creighton basketball alum who’s now the executive pastor for Bridge Church. He’s also the chief operating officer of Abide, an Omaha nonprofit with dreams of developing healthy, thriving neighborhoods within the city’s urban core.
“The day before his Foundation event, Kyle got off the plane and drove straight to Abide,” said Dotzler, who played at Creighton with Kyle’s brother, Kaleb. “I’ll never forget talking to Kyle about what Abide was doing, giving him a tour, and hearing about the things he was already part of.
“I was so blown away by Kyle’s heart to impact the communities he was playing in and use his influence for the Kingdom. He’d established foundation work in every city, and it was evident God was all over His life.”
The two became quick friends and built a deep friendship in Christ. In fact, Kyle and Dotzler worked together to create a T-shirt with the phrase, “We Are Better Together”—Abide’s vision to unite Omaha residents as one family.
Kyle finished his tenure in Utah with a flourish, setting a new NBA single-season record for 3-point accuracy (53.6 percent) during the 2009-10 season. That led to a free-agent contract with the Chicago Bulls, where his fan-favorite status continued to grow and each pivotal 3-pointer Kyle hit brought forth a shout of “Hot Sauce” from Bulls announcer Stacey King.
Meanwhile, Kyle and his wife, Juliet, married in 2011 and began to serve with several area organizations, including Breakthrough Urban Ministries, the Chicago Housing Authority and Operation Warm, which provides new coats for the needy.
“We see so many celebrities and athletes who live in ways that take people further from Jesus,” Dotzler said. “Our culture, whether we like it or not, puts athletes on a pedestal, so having someone like Kyle brings hope to so many. He shows that you can serve Jesus with everything you have and still live in a way that is honorable and respectful to the world."
After playing as part of the Bulls’ “Bench Mob” for two seasons, Korver was traded to Atlanta during the summer of 2012. He played there for more than four seasons before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017.
All the while, the Korvers’ charity service continued.
“Kyle loves Jesus from the inside out,” Birdsong said. “This is evident to me in the way he lives, by the way he cares for others, and the humility he carries himself with each day.”
The Kyle Korver Foundation conducted a “March Madness” fundraiser to help families build wheelchair ramps, similar to the work in Nebraska. Earlier in the season, Kyle held a sock drive in partnership with Atlanta Mission, which collected 4,000 pairs of socks for Atlanta’s homeless men, women and children.
He and Juliet also participated in a number of other team-based initiatives, including the Hawks Adopt-A-Family program during the holiday season, a court dedication ceremony at the Anderson Boys & Girls Club, as well as Make-A-Wish Experiences.
"I believe God is seeking our hearts, and if we are truly seeking His, He's going to take hold of us."
In October, the Korvers welcomed a son, Knox, into their family. He joins big sister Kyra in a family striving to love, lead and serve the community.
“Kyle and Juliet are truly some of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet,” Jones said. “Yes, they have a cool life and he’s living out my dream of being an NBA player, but what stands out even more is how kind, down-to-earth and genuine they are.
“They’re amazing friends, and they love being surrounded by community instead of living in an NBA bubble. They’re a beautiful picture of a Jesus-centered marriage, and there are a bunch of guys in the NBA who need to see what a healthy marriage can look like.
“Kyle isn’t marginalized for his faith in Jesus; he’s respected for it because what he claims to believe is what people see him living out.”
And just like succeeding in basketball at the highest level, Kyle said it takes hard work and determination to stay spiritually disciplined.
“It’s so easy to live this life with a foot in both worlds,” he said. “So easy, and it stinks. Routine is everything for me … I can't go out and take 2,000 shots on Monday, because on Tuesday I won’t feel like doing anything. It’s the same thing for me spiritually. If I can stay in the Word, stay connected in prayer, and seek out good conversations at a steady pace, I'm going to grow.”
When Kyle was young, he had the opportunity to watch his father pastor a community and start a ministry that transformed the residents of their town. Now, that’s what drives Kyle to continue giving back wherever there’s a need.
“When you can help, it’s what you do,” he said. “It’s not done for reward or because you have to or so others can see. It’s done because you can.
“I believe God is seeking all of our hearts, and if we are truly seeking His, He's going to take hold of us. When He does, the roots of our faith will grow deep. That’s what makes for a rich life.”
–This article appears in the January/February 2015 issue of FCA Magazine. To view the issue in its entirety digitally, click here: Jan/Feb 2015 FCA Mag Digital
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Photos courtesy of NBA Photos and the Kyle Korver Foundation
Bringing It Home: The Simple Life
From my first organized youth basketball practice to my days currently in the NBA, my coaches have always preached fundamentals. They're so simple, yet they have a profound impact on how well I play the game.
As a shooting guard, one of my primary responsibilities is to score with the outside jump shot. The fundamentals include squaring up my shoulders to the basket, fully extending my arm before releasing the ball, following through after the shot, and being ready for the rebound or quickly getting back on defense. Staying focused on the simple things and doing them right has been one of the biggest keys to my success.rom my first organized youth basketball practice to my days currently in the NBA, my coaches have always preached the fundamentals. They’re so simple, yet they have a profound impact on how well I play the game.rom my first organized youth basketball practice to my days currently in the NBA, my coaches have always preached the fundamentals. They’re so simple, yet they have a profound impact on how well I play the game.From my first organized youth basketball practice to my days currently in the NBA, my coaches have always preached the fundamentals. They’re so simple, yet they have a profound impact on how well I play the game.
Not the most athletic guy on the floor, I’ve always felt I had to put in the extra work to achieve my goals. But it’s important to remember, as John Wooden used to say, that doing right isn’t trying “to earn favor with God”—or with man for that matter. Doing right is a byproduct of having the proper perspective on your gifts and their purpose.
When I was in college, I’d stay up late or after practice to shoot around in the gym. It wasn’t to impress the coach or be in good favor with him. I didn’t just do it when he was around so he could hear the ball bouncing in the gym. I went because I loved it, it was fun, and there was joy in it.
God’s Word tells us that doing right is an important part of sharing the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul sets this example for us: “... I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” In other words, doing things with integrity and resisting the temptation to cut corners will help maintain our Christian witness.
For me, that means surrounding myself with like-minded people—people that build me up, not tear me down. I’ve found that I eventually become like the people with whom I surround myself. As humans we’re only so strong. If we put ourselves in enough bad situations, we will eventually fail. I’ve learned that lesson through many years of making good and bad decisions. If we focus on what’s important and ask God for guidance, He will lead us and reveal His path.
Psalm 37:23 says, “A man’s steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way.” Once we understand that truth, it’s a matter of simply putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the beauty of doing things the right way and keeping things simple. In today’s world with so many distractions, doing right isn’t the easy thing to do. But I’m trying to follow Christ’s example. That’s my goal as a believer. Watching others live that way has been a huge inspiration to me in my life. So why wouldn't I try to do the same for others?
-By Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks Guard
(Featured athlete devotional from The Greatest Coach Ever)