Playing in the NBA is a tough gig, especially in a consolidated, lockout-shortened season that recently finished with sixteen teams qualifying for the playoffs.
The long season has players bouncing from city to city like a pinball rolling down a slanted surface of pins and targets. The physical strain of playing on back-to-back nights in different cities fatigues the legs and zaps the desire to perform and play well. Even the best-conditioned athletes have to pace themselves so they have something in reserve for a fourth-quarter rally.
Besides the physical demands, Christian basketball players like Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks are bombarded with temptations to compromise the standards that they were taught to uphold while growing up.
In an interview a year ago following his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, Jeremy told me that his mom and dad, Shirley and Gie-Ming, warned him about the temptations found in the NBA. "They said, 'Be smart. There are going to be girls throwing themselves at you, so be smart.' Typical parent stuff," Jeremy said. "They also reminded me to make sure that I took care of my relationship with God first."
"So was it difficult or easy being a Christian in the NBA?" I asked Jeremy.
"I don't want to say it was easy, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It helped that I had a couple of teammates who were strong Christians--Stephen Curry and Reggie Williams. We would go to chapel together before the games and occasionally have conversations about our faith, so that was definitely helpful. I had a lot of accountability in terms of a small group at home. And since I was at home playing for the Warriors, I went to my home church whenever I could. I had my pastor, Stephen Chen, and then I had my small group."
The most difficult part about being an NBA basketball player was staying involved in his local church, the Chinese Church in Christ in Menlo Park, California.
"You know, church is really tough to attend, and the schedule is so crazy. I had to listen to sermons on my computer on a lot of Sundays. The sermons would not always be from my home church but from a variety of places. My dad burned a bunch of sermons for me onto a CD, so I would carry a little case of all the sermons. Devotionals were a big part of my walk -- just quiet times in my hotel rooms."
I asked Jeremy about those stretches in hotel rooms, since there's a lot of downtime in the NBA during long road trips that can stretch from five to eight days.
"Yeah, I had more spare time this year and more time to spend with God this year than I have ever had," he said. "That was one of the parts that made it easier compared to being in college, where you wake up, go to class, practice, then do your homework, and go to sleep. I had a lot more free time, since I was no longer in school."
"And what about the temptations?" I asked. "I imagine one of the difficulties about playing in the NBA is all the women who hang around the hotel rooms and all the people who try to talk to you and that type of thing."
"Yes, I think that's definitely true, but it wasn't really an issue for me because I didn't go out very much. And then there were guys on my team I hung out with, and we had a different lifestyle, so it wasn't a huge issue. It's definitely out there if you want it, but I chose to take it out of play. Once you take a stand for something at the beginning, everybody respects that, and they don't bother you about it."
Jeremy said his parents brought him up in a Christian home and taught him what it means to be a believer. "But the thing I appreciate most about them is they don't judge my basketball performance on how I do individually in terms of statistics," he said in an interview with studentsoul.org when he was at Harvard. "They make sure I have the right attitude, that I don't yell at my teammates or the refs and that I'm always under control. They make sure I have a godly attitude and when I don't, they call me out on it and make me accountable."
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