NBA star Jonathan Isaac explained to Megyn Kelly why he decided to open up about his past struggles and his journey to faith, which led to standing up against Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in his new book “Why I Stand.”
During SiriusXM’s “The Megyn Kelly Show” podcast, the Orlando Magic power forward told the host about how he grew up as a child in the Bronx in New York with his “mom, my dad and … three brothers and one sister. … Everything was great.” He said they “went to church all the time … church was just tradition for us.”
But Isaac said when he was “10 years old, my parents split up, and that’s when kind of everything started to go wrong in my life. … My mom took us kids and left my dad … and I went to Naples, Florida.”
“I went from black New York to white Naples, Florida,” the professional basketball player shared. “And I really struggled with fitting in and making friends and kind of getting adjusted to everything. So I really developed a sense of self consciousness that I never experienced before … anxiety and fear about getting my peers to like me.”
“But I found basketball, and basketball pretty much became my identity because it got me everything that I thought I ever wanted,” he added. “The girls liked me now. The guys wanted to play ball with me, so I started to have a sense of belonging. But I still struggled with that anxiety and fear behind the scenes because I always felt that I was going to be the one to mess it all up.”
The NBA star said he went on to college and then got drafted to the NBA in 2017 by the Orlando Magic, and explained that it wasn’t until he got drafted by the NBA that he finally thought “wow” and realized he did have skills and was talented. But he admitted that he “wasn’t all the way there with God when I got drafted.”
Isaac told Kelly how his mom, “this tough” woman, always affirmed him when he did well, but when he did poorly, she would say things like he “wasn’t playing up to his potential, or you’re being weak.” He shared how he would later meet two people who would prop him up “no matter how he played” or “what the scoreboard” said, and that’s the woman who would be his wife, and the man who called himself Doc.
“The biggest thing for me … was just coming to the realization that God loves me for me, like I don’t have to perform for his love, I don’t have to be perfect for his love,” Isaac told the host. “And that was the first time that I had this sense of calm and peace.”
“I believe that God uses people, and in my story God definitely used people; he used Doc, he used my wife, he used my church family, he used my family to kind of help foster that in me and teach me what the love of God was like on a personal level … having bad games in the league and still being encouraged, still being affirmed. … That was the turning tide for me,” he added.
The Orlando star explained how he met Doc, this guy who just stopped him in the elevator, who didn’t know him, and told him, “I can tell you how to be great. … Doc didn’t know anything about what I was going with behind the scenes or anything that I was struggling with … but God knew. … From then on, my life honestly just gets flipped upside down.”
Doc ended up actually being a pastor and Jonathan said he started going back to church.
Fast forward to May 2020, after George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement hits. Isaac becomes the first professional basketball player in the 2020 NBA bubble to remain standing during the playing of the national anthem, even when his teammates kneeled in support of BLM.
“So, what happened to George Floyd was obviously tragic … what I tried my best to do was to take a step back and say, ‘What is the right way for me to respond in a way that can bring the most change?’” Isaac shared, as his teammates decided to kneel and wear a Black Lives Matter t-shirt for the movement. “Again, I couldn’t see, you know, seeing all the things that were going on at the moment, I’m thinking for myself what is the answer.”
“And for me, I didn’t see what was going on with kneeling for the national anthem and wearing a t-shirt. … And so, as I looked at my own life and said, ‘I know what has changed me, I know what has helped me, I know what has helped countless people … that’s the gospel and that’s the love of Jesus Christ,’ if we’re willing to show it and share it,” he added. “That’s why I decided to stand. … Racism is not the only thing that plagues the hearts of men. But I know that the gospel does changes the hearts of men.”
Later, Kelly asked the NBA star where he was politically, and she said he sounded “conservative.” He said what he’s tried his best to do is let his Christianity guide him when it comes to voting, so “let people pick from that where they may.” When pressed further if Isaac would ever run for political office, he definitely made it sound like a possibility, someday.
“When I see what people have to go through … I don’t know if I would be up for subjecting myself to something like that … but at the same time, I see the need for leaders who are willing … can speak and can be vocal and have a moral compass and courage and all of that.”
“It’s not something that I would throw away,” he added. “But right now, I’m just playing ball and I am just trying my best to walk out my Christianity the best I know how.”
“Why I Stand” is available in hardcover from DW Books here.
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