ATLANTA — The best shooting advice former Creighton star Kyle Korver ever received was from his mother.
It’s not all that surprising considering the credentials of the extended family of the sharpshooting 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 Division I — Klayton (Drake) and Kaleb (Creighton). A youngest brother and female cousin are currently playing at the highest level — Kirk (UMKC) and Kari (UCLA).
Yet it was mother Laine, who scored 73 points in a high school game before a college career of her own, offering the following on 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.’”
Heading into Wednesday’s game, Korver led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage at .460 (127 of 276). His made 3-point field goals were fourth and his attempts 16th. Korver is shooting nearly as well this season from 3-point range as 2-point range (50 of 108, .463).
During 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 on the NBA’s 3-pointers made list. He owns Atlanta’s 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 (watch, he still passes that way) and had a self-described “helicopter spin” on his shot through his sophomore season in high school.
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. 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 became enamored with the game. He was 5. The family went to watch his uncle, Kris — now the coach at NAIA Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa — play a high school game.
The gym was packed. The crowd was loud. The floor shone brightly. Kris played so hard. It was electric. After the game, Kyle stood by the court nervous to even set 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.
Kyle would watch his youngest uncle practice shooting in the driveway, often getting paid a quarter, or perhaps a dollar, to rebound. As he grew, he would wait all day on Sundays at the park across the street just for the chance to get into a pick-up game.
Korver told 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 said 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 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-foot-7, and the strength that came along with his size would eventually resolve the side-spin of his shots. A scholarship to 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 had held since he was that 5-year-old so nervous about stepping on the shiny basketball court.
Korver was drafted in the second round (51st overall) by the Nets in 2003, a bit of a disappointment. He was traded to Philadelphia, 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 you gain a whole new appreciation when you see him go about his business,” said Atlanta coach Larry Drew. “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 them can get a hot hand and win, Kyle said.
“We all really love basketball,” said Kris Korver. “We love to compete. We love building up men and teams. That is the common theme of our family. Basketball was just our tool.”