On Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, one week before the rocket launch of Linsanity, Jeremy Lin walked down the hallway from the New York Knicks' dressing room in Miami's American Airlines Arena to participate in the pregame chapel. The Knicks' opponent that night was the LeBron James-led Heat. Just a handful of players from both teams had joined him, including Udonis Haslem, a Miami Heat forward and a regular at the 20-minute assemblies.
After the chaplain shared a short message, he asked if anyone had a prayer request.
Lin raised his hand.
"That I not get cut again," he responded.
The Knicks had until Feb. 10 to decide whether to keep Lin -- which would guarantee his contract for the rest of the season -- or cut him loose. Having been sent to D-League a few weeks earlier, Lin's position was that tenuous at the time.
Looks like God answered that prayer, and even though Linsanity was put on a side rail following Lin's knee surgery April 2, the Knicks' point guard is poised to try a comeback in Game 4 of the Knicks-Heat playoff series.
Many basketball fans are unaware that a chapel service is held one hour before every NBA game -- regular season and playoffs -- and that players from both teams are welcome to attend.
This open invitation makes professional basketball different from other major sports, where players from opposing teams are kept separate during chapel services. NFL football players have the option of attending a chapel service -- just for their team -- on the night before their games. (All NFL teams stay in a team hotel the night before a game whether they are home or away.) Major League baseball chapels are held in each team's locker rooms on Sunday mornings. Ditto for NHL players.
It's different in the NBA. One hour before tip-off, players from each team are invited to an empty room near the home and visitor locker rooms. It could be an extra locker room or even the dressing room of the team mascot. Attendance is voluntary.
The home-team chaplain greets the players, and maybe a song is sung a cappela. The chaplain then speaks for 10-15 minutes, sharing Scripture and teaching from the Bible. The topics range from overcoming life's challenges to a reprise of the gospel message, but the basic goal is to equip the players to live lives that glorify God and to encourage them to remain strong in the face of temptation.
The temptations are out there because NBA players have money, free time on their hands, and flocks of women hoping to catch their eyes in hotel lobbies, restaurants and bars. The ladies are dressed provocatively, they are attractive and they flirt like schoolgirls with come-hither looks.
Some, unfortunately, are looking to get impregnated by an NBA player. They see having a child out of wedlock as a fast-track ticket to child-support payments that begin in the five figures and can rise to sums of $75,000 a month. The number of illegitimate children of NBA players is staggering -- and commonplace in other professional sports -- but it's generally estimated that 50 to 60 percent of all players have had children out of wedlock. Child support payments are some athletes' single biggest expense.
"Most people forget that we're talking about kids in their early 20s," said Jeff Ryan, the chaplain for the Orlando Magic. "If you can remember your early 20s, and I can remember mine, you don't always make the right choices. I was fortunate that I didn't have the temptations that these guys have. Remember, they are targeted. Some handle it well, and some don't. Unfortunately, there are plenty of guys who get caught up in the women thing and get their heads turned. They come into the league with the best of intentions, wanting to be faithful, wanting to be strong, but they give into temptation. It's like my doctor telling me what I shouldn't eat. Once in a while I'm going to have it anyway. I think that's what happens to a lot of these guys. They know they shouldn't, but they give in."
NBA chaplains do their best to help the players stay on the straight and narrow, although there isn't much time. Whatever direction the chapel takes, the mini-service must end promptly at the 15-20-minute mark since the players are expected to be on the court shortly to warm up for the game.
After the players loosen up, they approach the mid-court circle for the opening tip-off. Once the referee tosses the ball in the air, players from both teams -- some who were seated in the same room hearing about God's love less than hour earlier -- try to beat each other's brains out, which is one of the beauties of competition.