NEW YORK — Kyle Korver waits for the rest of his teammates to clear the court before making his way out to his semi-private pre game warm up. In the locker room, he puts on his black knee-high socks, two per leg, and slips on startlingly low profile Kobe Bryant model Nikes. As Al Horford finishes miming pick-and-pop actions, casually knocking in 20-footers, Korver emerges and circles the court, dapping up Dominique Williams and smiling to fans from Chicago who say they came to Madison Square Garden to beg his forgiveness and won’t he please come back?
Horford’s working the bank shot as Korver picks up a 4-foot aerobics bar covered in white towel and wrapped in athletic tape. He performs precise squats, holding the bar above his head and arching his back as though in an Olympic lift.
This is how Korver readies his jump shot, from the ground up. Everything Korver does gives the impression of a craftsman polishing and assembling different parts of a high-performance machinery, testing each aspect of the system to calibrate it just right for show time.
Next Korver activates the flexibility in his legs necessary to be on balance when whipping around a curl screen. A series of lunges and band work engage small stabilizing muscles throughout his lower body.
Horford finishes his routine and heads in. There’s no one left on the court besides a few ball boys, three Hawks assistants, and Korver.
Finally Korver touches a basketball.
He begins at the elbow, facing away from the baseline as a coach feeds him from the top of the key. Korver is still focused on his legs. Quin Synder passes him the ball as Korver rotates as though on a hinge, catching and turning to get his shoulders square to the rim in one motion, then executes his impossibly compact release.
He shoots about 20 from each side, letting out an exasperated sigh with each of his four misses.
Now he’s moving in and out of a series of cuts. It starts with a basic curl. Bang. Then he flares to the corner 3. Bang. Now he works off the curl, shot fakes, takes one dribble and slides the ball in off the glass. Bang. Another curl: this time he passes to the coach who set the screen on his invisible defender, reverses direction, runs around a hand-off and shoots. Bang.
His coaches feed him the ball with a shared stoic seriousness. When a ball boy fails to pass a rebound out on time, Snyder lets out a disgruntled bark and Korver stares at the delay without altering his expression or tensed body position until things get back on schedule.
Everyone else has been back in the locker room for nearly 20 minutes by the time Korver winds it down and jogs in.
Now it’s midway through the fourth quarter the Knicks are still hanging around. The Hawks collect a rebound and Korver takes off up the sideline, running hard to maximize any extra space between him and his hustling defender, Carmelo Anthony. Korver hits the free throw line-extended on the left side and plants hard, springing back up toward the top of the key just as Al Horford comes crashing down with a screen on Anthony, who never has a chance.
The pass arrives on time and Korver catches in midair, landing lightly, his shoulders now square, his toes pointed towards the basket and just behind the 3-point line. He bounces straight back up, the ball locks into his shooting pocket and he snaps his elbow, casting his hand straight at the rim. Bang.
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