Philadelphia 76ers Kyle Korver, John Salmons and Kevin Ollie
By Janet Goreham
|FCA's Kevin Harvey leads chapel for members of the 76ers before each game. |
“Expectations from last season…coaching and playing in the NBA are so demanding…the worst performance…flashy clothes, the expensive cars and piles of money…worst player in the game…obviously fallen on hard times…very inconsistent
in their shooting…”
You don’t have to search to find remarks like these on the web or in the sports section of the newspaper the morning after any NBA game. They’re easy to find. But what must it feel like to be that NBA player, star or unknown, who opens his morning paper to the brazen review of his or his team’s performance the previous night?
Sure, public criticism and scrutiny come with the territory, but you can’t help but wonder what these pressures do to a player’s loyalties. With so many people to please, who are they really playing for?
Name: Kyle Korver, #26
Born: March 17, 1981, Lakewood, Calif.
Weight: 211 lbs.
If you could have any super power, what would it be? To be left-handed
If they were making a movie of your life, who would play you?Denzel Washington
Favorite flavor of ice cream? Cookies and Cream with chocolate syrup
Favorite movie of all time? Gladiator and Braveheart
Favorite Bible verse? Proverbs 3:5-6
Favorite vacation spot? The beach
Reading newspapers, internet blogs and magazines could lead you to believe that they are playing for the journalists who have the potential to make or break their public images. Or perhaps you think that it’s the fans and the crowds who inspire the players to do their best. Better yet, maybe it’s that large paycheck that gives them such glamorous lifestyles. And then, of course, you have teams, organizations, coaches, families and the players themselves. How can any NBA athlete be expected to maintain a healthy perspective?
Well, meet three who do.
Kyle Korver, John Salmons and Kevin Ollie of the Philadelphia 76ers all pledge their loyalty to their biggest Fan: God. Their relationships with Him remain at the top of their agendas, while everything else falls secondary, no matter how demanding the game. And even while the 76ers
organization lays claim to their time and their talents, these athletes know that ultimately they belong to God and His purpose.
So, what helps these players stay focused on the heavenly rewards? One thing is the 76ers’ FCA chapel. An hour before every home game, six or seven players file into a small conference room. Each player picks a seat, usually the same one he sat in the game before, and South Jersey FCA’s Kevin Harvey opens up in prayer. For the next 15 minutes Harvey is on fire as he packs each minute with the Word of God. He speaks about players training themselves to be godly and becoming competitors for Christ, just as they are competitors on the court.
“I try to individualize time at chapel,” said Harvey. “I try to recognize that maybe some guys don’t know the Lord or have no church background. There’s some guys who might have a church
background but who don’t know the Lord. Then, there’s other guys who really want to invest in the chapel program.”
Korver, Ollie and Salmons never miss. Korver, having grown up in the church—his father, grandfather and uncles are all pastors—says he can’t remember not being a Christian, much
like he can’t remember not playing basketball. In the same way, just as Korver was born into a Christian family, he also was born into a basketball family. His father, Kevin, mother, Laine, and three uncles all played college basketball in Iowa. His brother Klayton plays at Drake University (Iowa), while Kaleb and Kirk, the youngest Korvers, play high school and AAU ball.
After high school, Korver decided on Creighton University (Neb.) where he led his team to four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and captured the conference player of the year title
twice. He finished his college career as a second-team All-American and landed in the second round of the NBA Draft as the 51st overall pick. Soon, he was on an airplane bound for Philadelphia.
“The NBA is not meant for a Christian lifestyle, so we try to help each other out. If thing’s aren’t going well, we try to lift each other up and keep each other accountable.”
– John Salmons
With his solid church upbringing, it was no surprise that as soon as Korver joined the 76ers in 2003 he began to make chapel a part of his regular pregame routine. And for Korver, it was actually his transition into the NBA that drew him closer to God. “I’ve always leaned on God, but I don’t think I really grasped what being a real Christian was until I came to the NBA,” admitted Korver. “I’ve seen the negative side of getting wrapped up in things that basketball can bring. That’s what’s drawn me closer to God more than anything. In the last several years I’ve really started to make more strides in my faith.”
And as Korver continues to grow on the court and in his relationship with Christ, the chapel before each game continues to help him stay focused on his true Audience. “Chapel just gets
me in the right mindset for a game,” said Korver. “It reminds me that I’m not out there playing for the crowd. I’m not out there playing for me. I’m out there playing for God.”
Name: John Salmons, #7
Born: Dec 12, 1979, Philadelphia, Pa.
Weight: 207 lbs.
College: Miami (Fla.)
If you could have any super power, what would it be? Flying
If they were making a movie of your life, who would play you? Samuel L. Jackson
Favorite flavor of ice cream? Neapolitan
Favorite movie of all time?Family Man
Favorite Bible verse? All of Romans 8
Favorite vacation spot? Miami (Fla.)
Fellow teammate and Christian John Salmons feels the same way about chapel. “Before the games there’s so much going on. We go to chapel to take off some of the worry and to remember that God is in control of everything that’s going on.”
Of the three, Salmons has been attending chapel the longest. Having been with the 76ers for four years, he and Harvey have formed a bond that allows them to meet each other spiritually and challenge each other accordingly. “John is a deep thinker and very introspective,” said Harvey. “God has often used him in chapel where I’ve had a message planned out and, after opening prayer, John will ask a question, and for the next 15-20 minutes we’ll talk about that question.”
Before being drafted in 2002 (first round, 26th overall pick) by the San Antonio Spurs and traded the same day to the Sixers, Salmons made his mark at the University of Miami (Fla.) where he remains the only player to surpass 1,000 points, 600 rebounds, 400 assists and 150 career steals. He led his team to an 86-39 record during his four years—the most wins in any four-year span in school history. As a senior he was named to the All-Big East Conference second team and was awarded the Big East Sportsmanship Award.
“John is a steady example,” said Harvey. “He is very faithful, and he loves the Lord.”
Salmons’ relationship with the Lord began when he was 12 years old. He and his best friend went to see a play about the second coming of Christ, after which both were terrified that Christ was
coming back within the hour. He and his friend immediately gave their lives to Him, and since then, Salmons has never looked back.
While the chapel may be the only spiritual time that some of the players have during the week, Harvey knows that there is more that the players need in order to maintain their relationships with Christ beyond attending a brief chapel service before home games. “I view the chapel program as more of a supplement. You have to feed on God’s Word daily,” said Harvey. “I call the guys all the time and ask them what’s going on in their lives and how I can pray for them. Sometimes I’ll pray with them before a game; whatever they need.”
Harvey’s dedication to ministering to these athletes has given him the opportunity to form lasting relationships with them, including 76ers guard Kevin Ollie. “Kevin is a God-send,” said Harvey. “There are very few guys in the NBA who are really sold out to the Lord like Kevin. A guy like him is invaluable on a team.”
“ If I’m a salesman for Christ, then I’m going to be the best because He’s got the best product on the market.”
– Kevin Ollie
Ollie is in his ninth season playing in the NBA and his third with the Sixers after his debut with the team in the 1999-2000 season and a stint with them during the 2000-2001 season. Prior to his NBA career, Ollie played at the University of Connecticut where, after his senior year, he was named Third Team All-Big East after setting the single-season school record with 212 assists.
After re-dedicating his life to the Lord seven years ago, Ollie strives to live as a mirror image of Christ and to be an example. While he says that like anyone, he goes through hard times, God has blessed him with people who have helped him along the way.
Name: Kevin Ollie, #12
Born: Dec 27, 1972, Dallas, Texas
Weight: 195 lbs.
College: University of Connecticut
If you could have any super power, what would it be? Powers like Spiderman
If they were making a movie of your life, who would play you? Denzel Washington or Jamie Foxx
Favorite flavor of ice cream? Vanilla with toppings
Favorite movie of all time? The Color Purple, The Passion of the Christ
Favorite Bible verse? Acts 17:28
Favorite vacation spot? Hawaii
“I thank God for having people in my life who can help me through the lean times, just like Moses had Aaron,” said Ollie. “Beyond his title as chaplain and my title as a basketball player, [Harvey is] a prayer partner and a brother in Christ. I can reach out to him when I’m going through problems. And I get to see him every home game, which is a great asset to me spiritually.”
And just as Moses relied on Aaron’s friendship and Ollie relies on Harvey’s friendship, the players on the team also rely on each other to stay accountable in their Christian walks. “We are a close-knit Christian group,” said Salmons. “We try to pray for and help each other as much as we can.
The NBA is not meant for a Christian lifestyle, so we try to help each other out. If thing’s aren’t going well, we try to lift each other up and keep each other accountable.”
Added Korver, “When things are hard and for some reason you’re not playing or shooting well, it’s good to have someone there to pick you up and share a verse. We might sit there after a bad game and talk and pray about it. That’s nice to have.”
In chapel, Harvey often encourages the men to be warriors for Christ on and off the court. He speaks about fighting through physical injuries and correspondingly about spiritual injuries that can hinder their relationships with God.
“We talk about when we have problems or trials, that the game is still not over until it’s over. God’s going to get you through it, win or lose. We’re still going to honor Him and give Him glory,” said Ollie, who often leads Bible studies with the team when they are on the road.
Ollie, Salmons and Korver each know that basketball is not about the media, the fans, the money, or even about themselves. They know that it’s about God and the talent He’s given them to stand on a public platform and give Him the glory.
“My ultimate goal is to worship Him. That’s why we were created. If I’m a salesman for Christ, then I’m going to be the best because He’s got the best product on the market,” said Ollie. “I always want to portray myself in a godly manor and be holy on the basketball court. And I don’t mean being timid. God’s not timid. He wants you to be strong and give Him the glory.”
“This lifestyle is not meant for my happiness or for my career, it’s all for Christ,” added Salmons. “I try to be an example and live as Christ-like as I can.”