In high school, I was often terrified to play in organized basketball games. Don't get me wrong, I loved to play basketball and to this day it is one of my favorite activities. But something made me go stiff the moment a referee and a coach were involved. The primary reason I survived four years of high school basketball was because of prayer and the support of my family and friends. For this reason, faith and family have always gone together in my post-high school experiences in organized basketball, primarily as the coach of my younger brother's junior high and junior varsity team for three years. Faith, while not significant in all ball players' minds, certainly means a great deal to me, which is why I was thrilled to read this story by ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde on the faith and tattoos of Duke guard J.J. Redick:
"I didn't get tattoos so other people would say, 'Oh, J.J.'s got tattoos. He's got a basketball on his arm that says King of the Court,' or something like that," Redick said. "I got a tattoo for me. It's a constant reminder, every day, of what God has done and what he will do in my life."
The reminders are etched upon the senior guard's lean torso -- one on his chest, one on his abdomen.
The script lettering on his stomach reads, "Isaiah 40:31," referring to this Bible verse: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
The other tattoo, on his chest, came first. It's the Japanese word for courage, and beneath it is reference to another Bible verse, Joshua 1:9. That one reads: Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
That's the tat he got with grandma. And if there is one thing you can say about J.J. Redick, it's this: He's got basketball courage.
Courage is a tricky thing on a basketball court. Courage can quickly turn into cockiness detrimental to the team. I was privileged to see Redick drop 41 in a losing effort to Georgetown University last month, and I was struck not only by his ability to drill 3-pointers from 25 feet out with two guys in his face, but also his poise and unselfish behavior. Nevertheless, a big reason I believe Georgetown won was because Redick did not have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
Redick's faith, his upbringing in a household of five homeschooled children, his struggles in his first two years at college -- away from the comforts and protection of home -- his recommitment to disciplining his life and his personal faith in God all make for a great story. While Pat Forde isn't in your face about Redick's faith in Christ, he certainly does not attempt to play it down or avoid it like some sportswriters are inclined to do.
Here's more on Redick's faith and his claim to fame as the world's most hated basketball player (as of Saturday, he became the ACC's all-time scoring leader to go along with his NCAA record 3-pointers and his all-time leading scorer status at Duke University):
It takes courage to embrace the burden of potential failure and hoist shots at the moments of maximum pressure. It takes courage to thrive as the most revered and most reviled college player in America. It takes courage to put your personality out there -- the vulnerable poet's side, the arrogant baller's side, the unapologetic Christian's side -- for public dissection.
It would be so much easier to assume the dull automaton pose prevalent among today's college basketball players. Redick doesn't do easy.
"God's got to be his comforter," J.J.'s dad, Ken, said. "There's got to be times in that spotlight, with that much pressure -- and internal pressure from the Duke system of how you have to perform every day -- when he couldn't survive without faith, without being imbued with that spirit.
... After averaging 21.8 points per game last year and being named a first-team All-American, Redick decided he had earned a second trip to the tattoo parlor. That's when he got the Isaiah 40:31 tat, to commemorate what he called "the best year of my life."
"I regained my passion for basketball," Redick said. "My relationships with my family members were as good as they've ever been -- and my first two years, those were sometimes rocky. I met my girlfriend during that year and regained my spirituality."
Read the whole article if you enjoy sports. If not, read it anyway to get a feel for one of America's "Crunchy Christians" who has been reading, according to the article, Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life this winter. And I'll be watching come March Madness to see whether Redick's faith draws further attention by the media.