Kyle Korver joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in January 2017, via trade with the Atlanta Hawks. After winning their first title in franchise history, the Cavs were looking for some extra shooting. Korver, conveniently, was looking to compete for the first championship of his career.
With LeBron James attracting defensive attention and throwing him pinpoint passes, Korver shot the lights out in Cleveland. In 124 games with the Cavs, Korver knocked down an astounding 45.4 percent of his 3-point attempts. Unfortunately for him, he could have made 100 percent of his 3s and the Cavaliers still likely wouldn't have beaten the Golden State Warriors juggernaut in the 2017 or 2018 NBA Finals.
And so Korver remains ringless, at least for now. Last summer the sharpshooter once again joined a contender to try and help it get over the top, only this time he got to decide where he wanted to play. Korver could have played for just about any team he wanted, including LeBron's Los Angeles Lakers, but he chose the Milwaukee Bucks, led by a player who just might be this generation's LeBron: Giannis Antetokounmpo..
On Thursday, those two stars will headline thesince opening night. With identical 24-4 records, the Lakers and Bucks are tied for the best mark in the league, and each has a commanding lead in its respective conference.
Ahead of the showdown, Korver sat down with CBS Sports to discuss James and Antetokounmpo, and what links them.
"I guess first, lucky me," Korver said with a laugh. "I get to play with two of the best. Both just physical, just special in the God-given bodies that they have. Their ability to physically dominate the game, and their position, and get the ball in the open court, attack the basket, use their size. Giannis is longer, obviously, LeBron is more just dense. He's just bigger. They both play to their strengths really well."
Antetokounmpo and James have unreal physical attributes, but they do not coast on them. To Korver, the similarities that matter most go beyond size, strength and skill. James' obsessive tendencies and attention to detail are now the stuff of legend, and it did not take Korver long to learn that Antetokounmpo is wired the same way.
"Giannis is just such a student of the game," Korver said. "Like the first time we had a conversation he brought out a notebook and was taking notes. It was like, wow, that was really amazing. He does that with a lot of people. Any time he can learn he writes it down, he's such a student of the game."
When he is barreling down the lane, Antetokounmpo is as scary a sight as there is in the league. Almost as terrifying is the way he is growing as a playmaker, learning how to leverage that fear and bend defenses to his will. Like James, he defies positions, and perhaps he will eventually be able to pick apart his opponents with the same type of precision.
James is "at the point where he's not just running through everything anymore," Korver said, but his mind is as sharp as ever. In the halfcourt, and especially in the playoffs, no one controls the game like LeBron.
"The last I-don't-know-how-many-years, he's really studied," Korver said. "Where's the help coming from? This is gonna be the first option on the play, now what's the second option, what's the third option? He takes pride in that order of, like, this is gonna work, then they're gonna do this, and then I'm gonna hit the second one, and this one's gonna be open and I'll counter with this."
Korver considers Antetokounmpo and James two of the hardest-working teammates he has ever had. "They both have a childlike energy to them where they can just go all day," he said. "There's just a joyfulness to their natural spirit." The 25-year-old reigning MVP might be the favorite to win the award again, but James has a compelling case of his own less than two weeks away from his 35th birthday. Without a genuine love for the game, they would not have been able to reach this stratosphere.
"The thing that I respect the most about LeBron," Korver said, "is that even after all the success, and MVPs, and championships, his dedication to his craft and to every game, night in, night out, it stays so high. He's been given the world. He has everything the world can offer you. It's hard to stay focused once you've gotten all of that and achieved what he's achieved. But he still puts the game first, he respects the game, he honors the game with his daily approach."
In Cleveland, Korver got used to arriving at the practice facility the morning after a game and seeing that James' workday had already started. The number of minutes James had played the night before was irrelevant. In Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo sets the same example. "They love the work, the process of getting better," Korver said, and the veteran expects Antetokounmpo to continue ascending.
"Giannis is the kind of guy that you cheer for, that you want to do well," Korver said. "He's humble, he's hard working, he's talented. He'll be the first to tell you that he has a lot more that he can learn, that he can get better at. But the best player sets the tone for the culture of the team. The culture here is good, it's healthy, it's fun to be in."
The mere fact that Korver doesn't hesitate to compare Antetokounmpo to arguably the best player in the history of the sport is telling. And as extraordinary as it is for anyone to be in that rare air, it is unheard of for a 17-year player to maintain such a high level of production as LeBron has. When they meet on Thursday, Antetokounmpo and James will be on equal footing, a credit to their shared dedication.
If they're able to borrow some of Korver's luck, the same will be true in June.