[This article is taken from BP Sports dated April 25, 2009.]
Adam Bruckner knows poor. He runs a homeless program at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission in Philadelphia. He works with inner-city youth and can rattle off various poverty statistics for the City of Brotherly Love.
But Bruckner has never witnessed anything like the destitution he saw in Calcutta, India, last summer. “The depth of poverty in India, especially Calcutta, changed everything I thought about poverty – and not in a good way,” Bruckner said. “There are 500 street homeless in Philly. There are 70,000 in Calcutta. That’s unsheltered homeless. It was gross, compared to American side of things.”
This trip was not Bruckner’s doing. He was an invited guest of – you’d never guess this – an NBA star. Bruckner, 33, is good friends with Kyle Korver, 27, the sweet-shooting guard/forward for the Utah Jazz. If one were to list the perks that typically come with having a multimillionaire professional athlete as a buddy, working with the needy, crippled and dying in a third-world country would not be high on the list.
Yet in a league saturated with avarice and materialism, Korver isn’t typical. While many of his self-absorbed peers take long sips on the cocktails of their opulence during the offseason, he ardently looks for opportunities to serve others and fulfill Scripture’s mandate to help the poor. This passion stems from the model displayed by his remarkable family, whose legacy of Christian faith dates back generations. Korver’s grandfather, Harold, raised six boys, three of whom followed him into pastoral ministry, including Kyle’s father, Kevin.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the Korvers and their congregation in Southern California, Emmanuel Reformed Church, embarked on a massive civic restoration program in the city of Paramount. With the help of city officials, the Korvers transformed Paramount from a dangerous, crime-riddled area into a city that earned national awards and recognition from President George H.W. Bush.
Kyle would often accompany his father on cleanup days, which left an indelible mark on the youngster. “That’s where some of his multi-cultural, inner-city stuff cultivated,” said Kevin, who is now the senior pastor at Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa.
Despite the Christ-like examples of servanthood around him, Kyle’s faith remained on slow-burn early on. It was intimidating, frankly, to feel like he had to live up to the standards of his family. He was a good kid but his faith lacked substance, which led him to dabble in NBA nightlife during the early part of his rookie year (2003-04) with the Philadelphia 76ers.After reaching a spiritual breaking point later that season, he fully committed himself to the Lord and started using his unique platform as an NBA player to share the love of Christ. His new mission: to spread the gospel in the winsome ways he had observed during his childhood.
“They’ve all been great examples,” Korver said of his family. “Growing up, you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be doing. It takes you awhile to find yourself and until you do, you find yourself in somebody else’s shadow.” Korver wears altruism like a comfortable shirt. In 2006, he started the Kyle Korver Foundation to provide structure to all the charitable ideas floating in his head. Last summer, he crisscrossed the country to raise support, and he recently hired his younger brother, Klayton, to oversee some fundraising initiatives.
He and some buddies from Creighton University, where he enjoyed an All-American career, are involved in providing medical supplies to a South Africa orphanage. And his NBA-sponsored “Kyle’s Coat Drives” have collected more than 3,000 coats for underprivileged children. “It’s all a big work in progress,” Korver said of his foundation.
His compassion is best on display in the dark, unwanted places of the world. In 2005, he and Bruckner, a former player for the Philadelphia Kixx pro indoor soccer team whom he met through 76ers chaplain Kevin Harvey, started a Bible study at the Helping Hand Rescue Mission for young Christian adults who wanted to make a difference in downtown Philly. Before long, the two started meeting some local kids from the dangerous projects.
At first, some of the older teenagers were leery: Who were these two Caucasian adults intermingling with dozens of African-American kids? It quickly became evident that the 6-foot-7 white dude wasn’t an undercover cop; he was one of the NBA’s best young players, a long-range bomber who set the 76ers’ season record for three-point field goals made (226) during his second year.
But he sure didn’t act like a star. There was no pretension about him. He listened to the kids and joined them in pickup games at some of the 14 different hoops he had installed at five local inner-city schools. He bought them 76ers tickets. He gave some of them his cell phone number and invited them to his house. He ate Thanksgiving dinner at one family’s home. He provided tutors, computers and medical supplies to schools. In addition, he and Bruckner started a youth Bible study at the mission. “The kids are used to him now,” said Bruckner, who lives in Korver’s house in the Philly suburbs. “He’s just Kyle Korver.”
Because of his offseason home and love of the area, Korver remains tied to Philly even though the 76ers traded him last December to Utah where he is currently averaging 8.4 points a game as a reserve for the two-time defending Western Conference Northwest Division champions. “There are probably only a couple athletes in all the sports in the city as popular as Kyle is,” Harvey said.
Korver’s kindness isn’t confined to U.S. borders. Last summer marked his fourth overseas trip with the NBA’s humanitarian “Basketball Without Borders” program. Before arriving in New Delhi for the NBA’s structured agenda – camera-friendly basketball clinics, restaurant appearances and work with AIDS families – Korver took Bruckner and a missionary friend to Calcutta, far away from the publicity-conscious NBA representatives, where they visited the home and missions of the late Mother Teresa.
Not even the worst ghettos he has witnessed in Paramount and Philadelphia could have prepared Korver for the shocking images in Calcutta. The poverty was overwhelming. Naked children ran through the streets, many of which were filled with filth. Grown men stooped over to brush their teeth with sand and street water. And oh, the smell of the place.
But there, in the unlikeliest of destinations for an NBA star, is where Korver feels the greatest satisfaction, a fulfillment that no game-winning three-pointer can replicate. He thrives in places where hope is on life support. It makes him feel alive. It helps him understand why so many of his family members have devoted their lives to serving others. And it brings him closer to the Savior.
“The biggest thing is, I just want to feel him more,” Korver said. “I’m just learning how to pray better and be still with God – how to listen to what he’s saying and hear his voice.”