Utah Jazz guard Kyle Korver delved into issues of racism and white privilege in a powerful essay published in The Players Tribune on Monday. The piece, titled "Privileged," recalls Korver's experience as a white player in the NBA and how incidents involving two black players helped shape his views on systemic racism.
Korver, who said he looks like the majority of fans attending games, discussed how having privilege allows him to engage in the fight against racism — or opt out.
"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," he wrote. "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."
Korver recalled a 2015 incident when his Atlanta Hawks teammate Thabo Sefolosha suffered leg injuries during an arrest outside a New York City club. A grand jury eventually found that Sefolosha was not guilty of all charges related to the incident, but Korver said his first thought, and reflex, was to blame Sefolosha.
"Before I knew the full story, and before I'd even had the chance to talk to Thabo ... I sort of blamed Thabo," he wrote, adding that he later felt like he let his friend down.
Sefolosha called the essay "courageous" on Tuesday. "It is a thoughtful and sincere letter that speaks to everyone that believes in change," he told ESPN's The Undefeated.
"For him to show that being oblivious to the racial bias and then learning about it and wanting to make a change around him is powerful."
In his essay, Korver cited a recent incident in when Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook appeared to threaten a Jazz fan he claimed hurled "racist" comments at him. The fan was permanently banned from attending Jazz games and Westbrook was fined $25,000 for "directing profanity and threatening language to a fan."
The incident led to a meeting with Jazz's president Steve Starks, which for Korver, turned into a larger conversation about race relations in the country.
"This wasn't only about Russ and some heckler," he said. "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."
Recognizing his own feelings of guilt and responsibility, Korver, one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history, said he aims to "hold fellow white men accountable."
"And we all have to be accountable... Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a 'safe' space for toxic behavior," he said.
His essay was widely praised by players across the league, including his former Cavaliers teammate LeBron James.
"Salute my brother!! Means a lot. And like you said I hope people listen, just open your ears and listen," James tweeted.