Courtesy Creighton University
Read the full transcript of Kyle Korver's 2019 Creighton University commencement address
Good morning -- parents, friends, faculty, and everyone in the Creighton community. Thank you so much for having me. To the Creighton Class of 2019, you did it! This is your day, and I'm honored to be here celebrating with you. I want to give a special thank you to Father Hendrickson for inviting me. He reached out to me just before the playoffs started, and asked if I would be free today. Giving speeches isn't really my thing... but this is Creighton. My alma mater. I was excited and I wanted to say yes.... but we were just about to head into the playoffs. I said to him, "May 18? ... But that would be the middle of the Western Conference Finals!"
And do you know what he said? He said, "Yeah, you know, we looked at that. It appears you have Houston in the first round and if you win you'll probably Golden State, the Warriors in the 2nd round."
Then he was like, "I mean, I'm ok with penciling you in..."
Wow..... look at this arena! In my day, we rocked out in the Civic. My last game at Creighton was the last game at the Civic. I'll be honest: I held onto a bit of a grudge against this arena for a couple of years. You know, some people stay stuck in the past. Hang onto the good ol' days". Just wait! You're gonna start saying some of these things now... I'm really trying to let go of that mindset! But it's great to be back on campus. I look back fondly on my Creighton years - I graduated with a major in Visual Communications (is that still a major??) ... and our basketball team went to four straight NCAA Tournaments. I was even able to set a few school records. But like I said, nothing stays the same. Some guy named Doug McDermott swooped in and wiped out most of them. Don't worry it's O.K. I'm not stuck in the past ... I'm over it, I swear. Except for when I guard you next, Doug. Come get an NBA record, Doug.
As your commencement speaker, I'm supposed to stand up here and give you my BEST advice. Advice that I hope will help you over the next few years.
So here we go! My best advice. How ... to shoot a basketball. There is no perfect shot. But for me, the whole goal in shooting is to make your shot as strong and compact as possible. So when you catch the ball, catch it strong. Try to catch the top of the ball, so that you don't have to turn it. That little bit of movement can take away some of your power. You don't need to jump high! Take it from me!! But you need to jump powerfully. Your power doesn't come from swinging the ball up, it comes from your hips and your feet!
At the end, remember to hold your follow through. Finally, this is maybe the most important... Don't just shoot it to shoot it. Shoot it to make it.
... and that, Class of 2019 ... is what I got for you.
Thanks for having me. Congrats.
Do you need more?
This is actually the second speech I've given at Creighton. The first one was 19 years ago, in my freshman speech class. I don't remember what it was about, probably basketball... But I remember my grade: I got a 9 on that speech! A 9 out of ...... 100. It's a long story, one that probably doesn't need to be fully told today.
But today... I promise... to do better... than an F-minus... OK! Now that I've set the bar low - and got the shooting lesson out of the way - let's do this thing!
Again! Congratulations, class of 2019! You are here. Round of applause! This is a really big deal! You know, there won't be many days in your lives like this one. Today is a chance to press the "pause" button - in between one big phase of life and another. A chance to celebrate and also reflect. Life really does speed up after this - just ask your parents.
The second part of my job today is to offer you some wisdom before you head out into the real world. Now... I know what some of you might be thinking: What does this basketball guy know about the real world? I'm seeing my wife nodding right now. It's true. Since college, my job has been ... shooting baskets. I've worked hard at it. And I'm proud of the work I've put in... because hard work feels good! But I also know how fortunate I am to do what I love for a living. That's not lost on me. I feel very grateful. It's something that I wish for all of you - to be able to do what you love for a living.
But I don't want to just talk about basketball today. Because basketball is what I do for a living ... but it's not how I want to define my life. I reject the idea that athletes should "stick to sports" or "stay in their lane" or "shut up and dribble." Athletes are not some kind of one-dimensional sports robot. And the same goes for you. Each of you is made up of many parts, many interests, many opinions, many experiences. Own these! Share these! Don't let the world convince you that your voice isn't important.
That makes me think of a quote by Saint Irenaeus, from the 2nd century. He said: "The glory of God is man (or woman) fully alive." Fully. Alive. I love that. And that's what I want to talk about today. I'll get to this more later, but it's about the combination between what you DO as a person ... and who you ARE as a person. WHAT and WHO.
Let's start with what I mean by the WHAT. What job. What spouse. What house. What city. What 401K. What car. What title. What awards. What hobbies. What vacations. And look: the WHAT of your life is really important!
There is value in working hard and achieving your goals, which I've found in basketball. But what you do for a living isn't the sum total of who you are as a person. And if your what is your identity, you might be let down.
When I was sitting where you are, 16 years ago, I was nervous about where MY career would go. Let me tell you a story about my first year in the NBA. From as early as I could remember, it was my dream to make the NBA. Just to make it in, you know? I loved basketball, but it was MORE than that. The NBA was the only thing I saw when I looked into the future. If I just made it, I thought, then I'd be who I always wanted to be. I would have everything I wanted. Sure, the NBA is a job that gives you money, fame, fans. But when I was a kid, the NBA dream wasn't necessarily about that stuff: it was about wanting to be the best at something. And wanting the world to recognize that.
The NBA draft came - and people said I had a chance. But I wasn't a LOCK. I watched the draft from my dorm room in Kenefick Hall. Room 605. It was June 26, 2003. My friends were packed in the room, huddled around the TV. A news guy showed up with a camera. Every year, 60 players are selected in the draft. My year, 50 names came and went ... it was looking iffy. Then when they came back from the very last commercial break: I saw my name scroll across the bottom of the screen. Everybody went crazy. The 51st pick. To the New Jersey Nets. I found out shortly after that I had been traded to Philly. ... I'm not sure if TRADE is the right word. I was more or less sold. For an undisclosed amount of money. I later found out they used the money to pay the entry fee for their summer league team... and...this is true ... They spent the leftover money on a new copy machine!
What's your trade value? Mine was apparently...a copy machine! It's OK. A few years back, that copy machine broke... and I'm still playing.
The season started, and I found myself on the same team as the one and only ALLEN IVERSON. By the way, all the credit in the world to A.I. He was always encouraging me to shoot my shot. He'd say, "SHOOTERS SHOOT THE BALL"! The NBA was stronger. Faster. Harder to get an open shot. But I was getting the hang of it. I figured out my role: I played about 10 minutes a game that year - and I remember telling myself, OK, you're gonna get 4 to 6 shot attempts per game ... you gotta hit enough to get to 10 points. That was my goal. 10 points Everything seemed to be working out. I had made the NBA.
Then, late that season, something happened. About 60 games in, I woke up one morning in my apartment in Philly. I turned on the shower and got in. An hour later, I was still in the shower. But now I wasn't standing, I had laid down in it. And the warm water had gone cold. I was a mess. I couldn't get myself to move. I was so incredibly ... sad. And then I got mad at myself. What was wrong with me? I'd made the NBA. I was living the dream I'd had as a kid. I had all the comforts that success can get you. And I was only 23 years old. But I felt empty. I was anxious. I was miserable. I didn't like the person I was seeing in the mirror. Why wasn't this enough? Shouldn't everything be smooth sailing now. It was a pathetic scene.
I tell you this story not to be all woe is me. I tell you this story because it really shocked me. It wasn't supposed to feel this way. Our culture tells us if you have the things that I have, you'd be comfortable and you'd be happy. In that moment, I realized I knew my what, my what was Kyle, NBA 3-point shooter. But up to that moment, I hadn't really considered who I was. I mean, maybe I had some, but there wasn't a lot of depth to my thoughts. Was I just a basketball player? What did I believe in? Who did I care about? Who was important to me? What if that all went away? Who would respect me? What would my identity be? Sitting on the floor that day in the shower, I didn't have any good answers. But something shifted in my heart when I realized something was missing from this dream I was chasing. I'm 38 years old now and I'm still searching and redefining who I want to be and the impact I hope to have outside of basketball.
Any history majors here? Props to you. You picked a difficult major. We need your insights now more than ever. Recently, I came across a quote from the late professor and historian Howard Zinn. He said: "You can't be neutral on a moving train." Let me give you the context: It was the '60s and Zinn was a professor, talking to his students about the civil rights movement. His students - young people the same age as you - were studying it. It was history and it was current events. But still, it didn't directly affect most of their lives. Like you, they were busy. Like you, they were just starting to figure out their own careers.
And anyway, what could they do about it? Why should they care?
"You can't be neutral on a moving train." Here's what I think he meant: Like a train, life is happening - history is happening -- right now, whether we choose to take part in it or not. There is a world out there that is changing - for good or for bad - right now, whether we take part in it or not. Our society is changing - whether we opt in or not.
We have a choice - to care or not. But you can't be on board the train - be a member of our society - and claim you didn't know you were along for the ride. We all play a part.
That was the '60s. Today we face our own urgent challenges. We still face deep inequalities in America today. But they are easy for some of us ignore.
So Zinn's advice feels very relevant in 2019. In the real world, there is no neutral. Saying, "I don't know where I stand".... or "that doesn't really affect me"... that isn't being neutral.
That's a privilege. Recently, I wrote an essay about race and privilege. In the essay, I wanted to say two things that had been on my mind for a long time. One: That I, Kyle Korver, a white man, have so many advantages in America just because of ... my skin color. And two: I wanted to encourage a conversation, among white people, about privilege, a conversation that is uncomfortable and often avoided. As the recipients of so much privilege, white people have the opportunity to NOT JUST oppose racism and inequality, but to actively work to find solutions. And I hope in some small way it reached people who want to join this conversation. But that's a form a privilege, too, right? Because I didn't say anything new or novel in what I wrote - people of color have been saying what I said for so many years! People who have been on the short end of these built-in privileges.
Writing about this topic opened my eyes to my own blind spots. But I know there are more that I'm still uncovering. For years, throughout my adulthood, it was easy to ignore things like systemic racism and privilege ... because they didn't really affect me. And when something doesn't affect you, it can become invisible. I mean, I knew at some level that I was part of a system that gave me so many advantages ... and marginalized others.
But was I trying to do anything about it? Was I even trying to really understand? No. I was silent. I was neutral.
As a white man, I could opt into the conversation about racism and inequality - but I could just as easily opt out. I've almost always opted out. For people of color in America - and yes, even many NBA players - systemic injustices aren't something they get to opt in or opt out of. They're an everyday reality.
I don't want to stand up here like I know what the solutions are. And I don't want my words to take away from the voices that are so often marginalized on these issues. And I certainly am topic. But it was important to me to begin to engage the parts of myself that were uncomfortable. And to be someone who cares. And to act like someone who cares. Who doesn't just sit and tolerate things that feel wrong, you know? Who doesn't ignore others in pain - especially if you can do something! Who doesn't accept the lie that some people are more deserving of dignity and opportunity than others.
My grandfather is a retired pastor of a church in Paramount, California, where I was born, and he always tells me ... and anyone who will listen: "Kyle my boy, we are blessed. But we are blessed to BE a blessing."
I've always liked that. Because it's another way to view privilege: We ARE blessed ... and today, especially on your Commencement Day, YOU are blessed .... To be graduating. To be so smart and capable. To have so much LIFE ahead of you. To be alive. Those are privileges. But privilege calls for responsibility.
I understand that this can be uncomfortable. But know what you BELIEVE. Then you'll know where to stand. Because the "real world" won't tell you that. You'll find out that people have all sorts of moral codes, and all kinds of motivations. And the real world will be full of distractions. You will be given lots of opportunities to choose what's easy. I mean, you could literally watch Netflix until you die - and then you'd still have Hulu, Amazon and all the Tik-Tok memes you missed while you were at this ceremony.
Look ... I'm not saying don't go get that well-paying job. Go get it! Go GET IT! Working hard is good! And money in itself is not bad. I'm not saying don't buy that car or go on that vacation. Go live it up. Comfort and fun are parts of life! But we SHOULD BE uncomfortable with the kind of comfort that comes at the expense of others. If you retreat to your own individual island in life.. and pretend that you aren't on this big train together, we all lose. We all lose out on your important voice. Your unique contribution to this world. So let's reject the myth that we aren't all in this together - that caring about the ME means you can't care about the WE.
Let's not sugarcoat it: This is a complicated world we live in today. We face serious, urgent problems, and your generation has inherited many of them. But looking out at you, I believe there is enough hope and heart - mixed with brains and skill -- to do anything. There is good to be activated in all of you. To solve any problem you want. To create anything you want to see. To be better to each other, in big and small ways.
So yes, these are challenging times. But a challenge is for rising to, not shrinking from. And out of a challenge comes opportunity.
Class of 2019 - my hope for you is that you can find purpose in your work, your relationships, your adventures in life. But I also hope you can find meaning in how you engage with the world outside of yourself.
Today is when you start building your legacy, as graduates of Creighton. Many years from now, looking back, you can say: We knew what we believed and we were willing to risk what it takes to act on our beliefs. Even when it was unpopular or uncomfortable. We sought finding solutions. We opted in. We're all on the train. We get to decide where it goes. YOU get to decide.
NOW... This may just feel like a lot of extra work..And yeah... it is work.... But it's good work. It's LIFE work. Just know that through it all, if you do this work, you will become someone to be proud of - a man, a woman, fully alive.
We're counting on you. And we're cheering you on.
And, lastly, remember: Don't shoot it to shoot it. Shoot it to make it.