Kyle Korver grew up in a family that celebrated basketball. He has grown into one of the top shooters in the NBA, leading the league in 3-point field goal percentage at the All-Star break.
Photo: Hyosub Shin
Photo: Hyosub Shin

Kyle Korver: The making of a sharp-shooter

The best shooting advice Kyle Korver ever received was given by his mother.

It’s not all that surprising even considering the credentials of the extended family of the sharp-shooting Hawks guard, the NBA’s leader in 3-point percentage at the All-Star break. Basketball is part of the fabric of life for the Korvers.

Father Kevin and four uncles all played Division III college basketball. Two younger brothers played at Division I – Klayton (Drake) and Kaleb (Creighton). A youngest brother and female cousin are currently playing at the highest level – Kirk (Missouri-Kansas City) and Kari (UCLA).

Yet it was mother Laine, who scored 73 points in a high school game before a college career of her own, who offered the following words how to focus.

“She said, ‘Kyle, if you look at the front of the rim, you hit the rim,’” Korver said. “‘You look at the back of the rim, you hit the back of the rim. Look just over the front of the rim and the ball goes swish.’”

It worked.

Korver leads the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage at .460 (127 of 276). His made field goals rank fourth and his attempts rank 16th. Korver is shooting nearly as well from 3-point range than 2-point range (50 of 108, .463) this season.

Over his nine-plus year career, Korver is 11th all-time in 3-point percentage (1,261 of 3,020, .418). He recently moved into 32nd all the NBA’s all-time 3 pointer made list. He is just 22 shy of moving past former Hawk Mookie Blaylock. He owns the Hawks franchise record, still ongoing, with 45 straight games with a 3-pointer.

Look how far Korver has come from the youngster who for a while shot left-handed (just watch, he still passes that way) and had a self-described ‘helicopter spin’ on his shot through his high school sophomore season.

The story of one of the best shooters in the NBA began more than 30 years ago in the inner city of Los Angeles, where the Korvers served a church, Emmanuel, in Paramount, Calif. A bowl of popcorn while watching the Showtime Lakers on television was nightly entertainment for a family that celebrated the height of the storied rivalry with the Celtics. And there were family games. Oh so many games. A family meal was not complete without a game.

“For holidays, one of the uncles would somehow have keys to some gym no matter what city we were in and we’d go play 5-on-5, cousins vs. uncles,” Korver said. “There are all the things of holidays that you enjoy but that game at the end, it was like ‘I can’t wait until we go to the gym to play.’”

Korver vividly remembers when he first became enamored with the game. He was five. The family went to watch his uncle, Kris, play a high school game. The gym was packed. The crowd cheered loudly. The floor shone brightly. Kris played so hard. It was electric. Following the game, Korver stood by the court nervous to even step foot on the surface. He eventually stepped on the court – and has been on one nearly every day since – as he fell in love with the game.

Korver would watch his youngest uncle practice shooting in the driveway, often getting paid a quarter, or perhaps a dollar, to rebound. As he grew, Korver would wait all day on Sundays at the park across the street just for the chance to get into a pick-up game.

Korver tells the story of how he would shoot with both hands as a youngster, just trying to get the ball to the 10-foot rim. An uncle told him he needed to pick a hand and the ball went farther with his off hand.

“So I picked my left hand because I wanted to shoot 3s,” Korver said. “The next summer he was rebounding for me and he said ‘What are you doing?’ I said ‘You told me to pick a hand.’ He said ‘You are right-handed.’ I said ‘I know.’ So he switched me over to right hand.”

The family moved to Pella, Iowa when Korver was in the sixth grade. Basketball remained central to the way of life in the family.

“We see sports as primarily a great gift from the Lord by which our boys would grow up to become men and also men with values, integrity and character,” father Kevin said. “We’ve been most concerned with the men they are becoming rather than the athletic achievements. We are very grateful for all they have achieved but we are most grateful for how basketball has helped shape our sons – interacting with people of different backgrounds, all the dynamics of different races, learning to have disappointments – it’s a great shaper of character.”

Korver became a student of the game and studied the mechanics of the jump shot. He would grow to 6-feet-7 and the strength that came along with his size would eventually resolve the side-spin of his shots. A scholarship to play collegiately at Creighton followed.

It was during his junior year when he first shared with a family member his goal of playing in the NBA, a dream he held since that five year old who was so nervous about stepping on the shiny basketball court.

Korver was drafted in the second round (51st overall) by the Nets in the 2003 NBA draft, a bit of a disappointment. He was traded to the 76ers where he spent his first four-plus seasons. Korver played for the Jazz and Bulls before being acquired by the Hawks in an offseason trade.

“I knew he was a good shooter but to gain a whole new appreciation when you see him go about his business,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew, once a member of the Showtime Lakers Family Korver grew up watching. “He goes through his drills game speed. When I watch him I feel that he is always envisioning somebody guarding him.”

There are still family basketball games – only they are better now. The Korver boys, separated by 10 years, are old enough to play against each other in pick-up games and shooting contests. Any one of the them can get a hot hand and win, says Korver.

“We all really love basketball,” said uncle Kris, now the head coach at NAIA Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. “We love to compete. We love building up men and teams. That is the common theme of our family. Basketball was just our tool.”

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