Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac used the Friday morning Convocation stage at Liberty University to share his story of how God turned his life and career into a journey where he stands boldly for him. and pursues his goal, even when others may encourage the opposite.
Isaac acknowledged that many likely know him as the first player to stand for the national anthem in the NBA bubble in 2020, a move that was followed by support from some and backlash from others. Struggling with an injury at the time, Isaac was still with his team as they entered the bubble (a COVID-19 quarantine allowing players to continue their season despite the pandemic). After the death of George Floyd, teams across the league knelt during the national anthem and wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts, and the Orlando Magic were no different. Whenever the subject came up, Isaac said he would bring Jesus into the conversation, but he was repeatedly told, “Now is not the time for that. »
In a team meeting only, all of Isaac’s teammates saw no alternative to the decision to wear the shirts and kneel for the anthem. When asked if he would participate, Isaac told his team that he saw the movement differently.
“I found myself in that moment not really understanding my place in that moment,” he said. “I started explaining to them, ‘I see the problem, I just have a different solution.’ We’re all short of the glory of God, and I don’t want to point the finger at any one person – or an entire race for that matter – because I need grace and mercy, just like (everyone) .’ »
That night, he called his pastor and expressed his concerns about taking his stand; Isaac said his peers would denigrate him, the public would tear him down, and he would lose other opportunities. His pastor simply told him, “You can’t defend God and God doesn’t defend you. »
In the next match, that’s exactly what Isaac did. He stood for the national anthem and didn’t wear a jersey, making national headlines and getting plastered online.
“The core of what I was trying to do was (to share) that I believe we all fall short of the glory of God, and if any of us throw stones at someone or anything whatever, we’re throwing stones at a glass house,” he said. “If we loved each other as God loves us, that is despite our sins and our faults, there could be a real change between whites and blacks, for all. »
“The reality of what I’m talking about this morning is that I’m the unlikely person; I am the unlikely person who can get on this stage and talk to you because of my background and my background,” he added.
Born in the Bronx, Isaac moved to Naples, Florida in college, and he struggled to fit in because he stood out as a tall black student among his mostly white classmates. He developed an anxiety that would continue throughout his college career and early years in the NBA. It was also in college that Isaac started playing basketball at a high level, and he shaped his personality through his status on the court.
“I put everything I had into creating this basketball identity, to the point where I was Florida State’s No. 1 player, but what no one knew was that I was struggling so much backstage against the anxiety,” Isaac said. “That thing inside of me was growing. The more people expected of me, the more I progressed as a basketball player, I had this dichotomy between working so hard for love and trying so hard not to lose it playing badly.
“To me, it speaks to the reality of having a relationship with Jesus Christ,” he added. “Finding my identity, my strength, my confidence, my purpose and my trust in Him, and allowing Him to direct my life during times like the bubble, times I’m known for.”
Isaac grew up in the church, but had no relationship with Christ when he joined the NBA in 2017; he said he lived for himself. As a beginner, one of his teammates invited him to a chapel, and the chaplain began the message with Luke 6:46, which says, “Why do you call me Lord and do not what I am saying ? Isaac felt convinced, but he hadn’t completely changed. Thanks to the perseverance of the Christians around him who were looking for him, Isaac finally found a new goal: the one that God has for him.
“I was so used to working for love, I was so used to clinging to other people’s perception of me and striving to be loved, (but) I started to rest in the love God has for me. The reality of a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ is real, and I know it because I have experienced it and been through it. I’ve been through so many ups and downs, I’ve been hurt, I’ve trusted God, I’ve walked with God and there are some things I know to be true. I know the world is changing, and the need for you to be able to stand up for your faith will only become more important, (but) harder to do.
He instructed Liberty University students to rise their own way.
“God is trying to give each of you a purpose, and you’re going to accomplish something for the Kingdom of God. It’s going to be a stand in one way or another, whether it’s before the Lord or in your daily life, and you’ll have to do it or you won’t be the one God created you to be.
After convocation, Isaac said he hoped the students would take his words to heart and explained why he wanted to visit Liberty.
“I hope they have been encouraged to stand up for what they believe in and to understand that God can and will use anyone who wants to, no matter what your struggles or background. Coming to a Christian university was important to me because it is the body (of Christ), and so it is important that students can hear my story and take something away from it. Being planted here and having this community is so special.
“I thought it was so cool that he stood up for his faith and whenever people hated him and his decision, he kept standing up for what was right,” freshman Hayden Hyman said.
Isaac took the time to take pictures with the women’s basketball team and some students after graduation, and he is due to meet the men’s team on Saturday.
Ahead of Isaac’s speech, Flames Football head coach Jamey Chadwell was accompanied by drums from The Spirit of the Mountain Marching Band as they encouraged students to attend the Flames’ home opener against Bowling Green, which begins Saturday at noon.