In March of 2019, OKC player Russell Westbrook had a heated exchange with a Utah Jazz fan during a Jazz home game. The fan yelled racial slurs at Westbrook, telling him to “get down on your knees like you’re used to”. Westbrook shot back and the exchange was all recorded. Westbrook later explained to reporters that he has dealt with racial slurs everytime he comes to Utah. Instead of sitting idly by, the Utah Jazz owners banned the fan from coming to any games ever again. The entire ordeal made the NBA wake up and start taking a hard look at racism and prejudice.
A few weeks after the Westbrook incident, Utah Jazz player Kyle Korver wrote an essay entitled “Privileged” that was published in The Players Tribune. Korver is white and he wrote about the inherent privilege he has and how this requires him to be a better ally. Korver spoke of his own racial bias in the 2015 unjust arrest and police brutality of his teammate Thabo Sefolosha. After Sefolosha was arrested for no reason, Korver found himself thinking, “…on the morning I found out that Thabo had been arrested, want to know what my first thought was? About my friend and teammate? My first thought was: What was Thabo doing out at a club on a back-to-back?? Yeah. Not, How’s he doing? Not, What happened during the arrest?? Not, Something seems off with this story. Nothing like that. Before I knew the full story, and before I’d even had the chance to talk to Thabo….. I sort of blamed Thabo.”
At this point, Korver knew he needed some adjustment in his thinking, but it wasn’t until the recent verbal altercation Westbrook had with a Utah Jazz fan that he realized he could do more. Korver’s essay goes on to explain what he thinks is the solution to using his privilege to make a bigger impact in the conversation of race. He states, “I have to continue to educate myself on the history of racism in America. I have to listen. I’ll say it again, because it’s that important. I have to listen. I have to support leaders who see racial justice as fundamental — as something that’s at the heart of nearly every major issue in our country today. And I have to support policies that do the same. I have to do my best to recognize when to get out of the way — in order to amplify the voices of marginalized groups that so often get lost. But maybe more than anything? I know that, as a white man, I have to hold my fellow white men accountable. We all have to hold each other accountable. And we all have to be accountable — period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a “safe” space for toxic behavior. And I think the standard that we have to hold ourselves to, in this crucial moment….. it’s higher than it’s ever been. We have to be active. We have to be actively supporting the causes of those who’ve been marginalized — precisely because they’ve been marginalized.”
The NBA would do well to have more players like Kyle Korver. Players that see racism and are willing admit they don’t have the answers and aren’t doing everything right. Most of all, more white players that just listen. Maybe that’s the solution for all of us. Let’s listen more than we talk and try not to minimize other’s experiences. Let’s listen to the uncomfortable parts of history and commit to moving forward with integrity and equality.