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Why Kyle Korver’s words on white privilege and racism matter

The NBA world, including Thabo Sefolosha, applauded the Jazz veteran on his ‘very courageous’ letter

Veteran NBA guard Kyle Korver stunned the sports world on Monday by acknowledging the issues of white privilege and racism in his first-person story in The Players’ Tribune. The rousing response to the words of a white player not known for saying much was a necessary reminder that white words matter in the fight against racism and social injustice.

“It is very courageous of him,” Utah Jazz teammate Thabo Sefolosha told The Undefeated. “It is a thoughtful and sincere letter that speaks to everyone that believes in change. 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.”

LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony are among the NBA stars who have been outspoken about racism and social injustice in recent years. Never forgotten will be their speech before the 2016 ESPYS telling the worldwide audience, “Enough is enough.” The common denominator among those four men, of course, is they are African American. And currently more than 75 percent of the NBA’s players are black.

Thabo Sefolosha (left), formerly of the Atlanta Hawks, shakes hands with Kyle Korver (right) of the Hawks during a game against the Toronto Raptors on April 7, 2016, at Philips Arena in Atlanta.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Korver speaking out about white privilege while playing in front of largely white audiences, however, speaks louder than James, Paul, Wade and Anthony combined. It resonates because it’s rare to hear from white athletes acknowledging racism and the pain their black teammates go through.

In fairness, there are white NBA players who have spoken up in the past. Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick, who played for the Los Angeles Clippers when then-owner Donald Sterling was banned in 2014 for racist comments, has talked eloquently about racial issues. Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki spoke to The Undefeated about being German and married to a woman who is half-African and the challenges his three biracial children may face. The Undefeated also ran a story in 2016 in which Redick, Ryan Anderson, Doug McDermott, Chandler Parsons and Jason Smith bravely talked about what it was like to be white in the NBA.

But in light of recent racist events at Jazz home games, Korver could not stay silent. The 38-year-old sharpshooter took a stand alongside African Americans and other people of color in the quest to end racism, social injustice and police brutality, and to offer better education and job opportunities.

Korver also admitted, after previously being close-minded, he needs to listen to the problems blacks and other people of color face.

“The fact that my terrible experience in New York is in a small way a factor into that awareness shows how everything that is negative can also have some positive that come out of it.” — Thabo Sefolosha

Korver wrote that he initially placed some blame on his black co-worker and All-Star colleague in separate incidents. He felt guilty for initially believing Sefolosha was responsible for his leg being broken by a police officer outside of a New York nightclub in 2015. Sefolosha, of course, went to trial and was found not guilty. Korver also acknowledged he thought Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook may have provoked a fan to say something to him during a recent game in Utah. Westbrook did not, and two Jazz fans were later banned for life for the racist words they yelled at Westbrook.

Reading about Korver’s growth in educating himself on the realities of racism and acknowledgment of guilt made Sefolosha feel proud to have him as a teammate and a friend.

“The fact that my terrible experience in New York is in a small way a factor into that awareness shows how everything that is negative can also have some positive that come out of it,” Sefolosha told The Undefeated.

It has not been uncommon to hear white coaches speak about racial and social injustice in recent years. You can argue that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr have spoken out against racism, social injustice and President Donald Trump more than any other coaches in sports. But along with being educated, smart and outspoken with a message, winning a combined eight NBA titles as head coaches and being white has made their woke voices even louder.

Kerr previously acknowledged to The Undefeated that it is important to have well-known and strong white voices speaking about race and social issues.

“There is no question the reaction to me saying exactly the same thing as a black athlete is taken a different way even if the words were exact,” Kerr said. “It is looked at differently. I think it is important for everybody to speak out if they feel comfortable doing so.”

Popovich has also previously told The Undefeated that most whites don’t understand the stress African Americans face daily. USA Basketball’s new head coach once called race issues in America “the elephant in the room.” He was also once pained to hear that his black assistant coaches had to talk to their children about properly dealing with the police, which is a talk he never had with his two kids.

“It’s easier for white people because we haven’t lived the experience,” Popovich once told The Undefeated. “It’s difficult for many white people to understand the day-to-day feeling that many black people have to deal with. I didn’t talk to my kids about how to act in front of a policeman when you get stopped.

“I didn’t have to do that. All of my black friends have done that. There’s something that’s wrong about that, and we all know that.”

Here’s to hoping more white NBA players speak out. Regardless of whether they are a star or not, white NBA players have a strong platform because most of the people in the crowd look like them. If white players show solidarity off the court with their black teammates to quell racism and social injustice as strongly as they do to win on the court together, perhaps the predominantly white fans would be more inclined to listen as well.

Here’s also hoping more white journalists will be unafraid to report on race issues and social injustice.

I am black, and it once pained me to hear a white male colleague say, “None of the black players want to hear a white middle-aged man ask them about race.” The veteran reporter could not have been more wrong.

It wasn’t a fluke that black NBA players, including James, Wade, Paul, Sefolosha, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Donovan Mitchell and many others, said thank you to Korver on social media after his revealing essay. It’s because those African American men know that white words truly matter in their dream of stopping racism and social injustice.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.