As the NBA experiences a youth renaissance unlike anything in the past 15 years, the 2018 Finals (featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors) has mostly been shaped by the veteran experience of players like LeBron James, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Andre Iguodala—all proving (to varying degrees) that age is just a number.
Perhaps that’s why fans have been so surprised to discover that sharpshooting journeyman Kyle Korver is 37 years old. Whether in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, Korver has sparked some of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ key runs throughout the playoffs.
Also known for having one of the craziest offseason training routines, Korver (by his own admission) has extracted the most out of his “average” abilities.
“When I look at my career, I’m not the most athletic guy on the floor,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve worked harder to get to this level than the majority of the players. I take pride in that. People ask me what my goal is in basketball and I just want to squeeze every ounce of potential that I have out of me. I look at a lot of guys that are just naturally gifted and good for them. But they didn’t have to work as hard to get there. I feel like they lose out on part of the satisfaction of making it to the NBA.”
For Korver, it all started back in Pella, Iowa, where his father Kevin is the pastor of Third Church. As the oldest of four brothers, he blazed the trail all the way to Creighton University and then to the NBA—first with the Philadelphia 76ers, then to the Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and finally the Cavs.
But it was his college days where the hard work and effort proved most valuable.
“I’d stay up late to shoot around in the gym or stay late after practice,” Korver explained. “It wasn’t to impress the coach. It wasn’t to 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 and because it was fun and there was a joy in it.”
Korver took that work ethic into the NBA where after 15 seasons he ranks fourth on the all-time three-point field goal chart (2,213) and still holds the record for highest three-point percentage in a season (53.6%). Korver also set the record for most consecutive games with a three-point field goal (127) until Curry surpassed that mark in February of 2016.
This past season has been one of Korver’s more challenging professional campaigns yet. Although nagging injuries slowed him down at times, he has never been tempted to take shortcuts in order to extend his career or get back on the court faster.
“There’s a sense of pride when it’s all said and done and you can look back and say that it was with blood, sweat and tears and you didn’t cut corners,” Korver said. “You gave it your all. Doing what’s right means sometimes having to make the tougher decisions and maybe choosing a more difficult path. But in the end, there’s a satisfaction in knowing you went through all of that to get there.”
Korver has also managed to limit distractions in his life. He’s done so by focusing his offseason efforts in various communities where he has played and through his humanitarian work in Africa—all under the umbrella of The Kyle Korver Foundation.
He also places a high premium on family, which includes his wife, Juliet, and their three children, along with his parents, his brothers, and his grandparents.
“As humans we’re only so strong,” he explained. “If you put yourself in enough bad situations, you will fail eventually. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the people you surround yourself with is who you’re going to become. You’ve got to find good people that are like-minded and will build you up and not tear you down.”
This past March, a key member of Korver’s support group was tragically taken away from him. His youngest brother Kirk, age 27, died suddenly after an undisclosed illness began shutting down vital organs. Korver stepped away from the Cavs for a few days to mourn the unfathomable loss. He shared a heart-wrenching eulogy at Kirk’s funeral back in Iowa.
“Today is a day of harvest where we see the seed you have planted all these years,” an emotional Korver said to his parents. “You will always have four sons; there will always be four.”
Upon returning to Cleveland, Korver continued to process the life changing circumstance.
“You know it’s hard to hold death in one hand,” Korver told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “Your brother passing. Everything you feel about that and you get playoffs. Nothing else gives you different eyes for what’s going on in the world and what’s important and what matters.”
When Korver steps away from the game, he will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest long-range shooters the NBA has even seen. Ironically, he’ll likely be overshadowed by famous All-Stars such as Curry, Harden, and Klay Thompson. Korver is okay with that. And whether it’s dealing with deep, personal loss or handling immense playoff pressure, his primary goal is to do everything with integrity and with motivations that transcend big money contracts and placement in the record books.
“It’s not always the easy road, but it comes down to whether or not you trust that God has a plan for you,” Korver said. “It’s so easy to see a situation or see a goal and work out in your mind the exact steps you need to take to reach that goal. But that’s not always the path that God has for you. God always works things out in ways that we don’t always expect. Everyone has goals and everyone has ambitions and things they want in life. But if you don’t have peace in your soul, you don’t really enjoy any of it.”