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NBA Player Stands Tall for His Faith

“One player turned towards me and asked, ‘Are you going to kneel, Jonathan?’ And I said, ‘Fellas, I'm not going to kneel and I'm not going to wear that T-shirt.’ And that was the day before it happened,” says Jonathan.

During the summer of 2020, protestors took to the streets after the killing of George Floyd. On July 31st, the NBA returned from Covid lockdowns. Like other NBA teams, the Orlando Magic players knelt in protest. Magic forward Jonathan Isaac stood alone. Afterwards, Jonathan faced backlash on social media and from reporters.

Reporter at press conference: “Do you believe that black lives matter?”

Jonathan: “Absolutely. I believe that black lives matter. A lot went into my decision and part of it was my thought was that kneeling and wearing a t-shirt doesn’t go hand in hand with supporting black lives…Everything that plagues our nation, that plagues us as a society I think the answer is the gospel.”

Jonathan is the author of a new book, “Why I Stand,” detailing his faith journey and standing for what he believes in. His confidence in his convictions might come as a surprise to those who knew him as a boy. Jonathan Judah Isaac was raised in church in the Bronx. However, after his parents divorced, Jonathan moved to Florida with his mother.  

“Coming from Bronx, New York, a predominantly Black community to Naples, Florida, a predominantly white community, different is exactly what I was,” says Jonathan. “That was the first time that I started to develop a sense of anxiety and really, self-awareness that I was different from the other kids and I wasn't fitting in. And so that led me towards basketball and starting to refine my skills there.The girls started to talk to me, the guys wanted me to be on their team. And so that drove me to put every single ounce of time and practice that I could into basketball, into becoming better.”

His game improved through high school and Jonathan captured the attention of college scouts. Still he had an intense fear of failure.

“I always just felt insignificant and always having to work for somebody else's approval or somebody else's love.”

The hard work payed off. Jonathan accepted a full scholarship to play at Florida State University. However, his anxiety followed him on campus.

Will Dawson: “When you get to Florida State, by all accounts, you had a great season. But behind the scenes, sometimes you would barely even hold it together. Why was that?”

Jonathan: “I had several moments at Florida State of like passing out, of just you know, having panic attacks, anxiety attacks, and not really being able to diagnose them until the coaches found out, and then we kind of dealt with it to where I was taking anxiety medication to practice and to play.”

After one season in college, the Orlando Magic selected Jonathan in the first round of the NBA draft, the sixth overall pick. What should’ve been a night of celebration, to Jonathan, felt even more like an opportunity to fail.

“Everybody else that was there almost felt like they expected to be there, they expected the night to go the way they wanted it to. But for me, it was just passing me by because of that same fear and anxiety that was going on in the inside of me,” says Jonathan.

While Jonathan’s nagging anxiety continued, something else happened his rookie season. A teammate invited him to a chapel service. The pre-game message challenged Jonathan’s thinking in a very profound way.

Jonathan says, “The chaplain started the message and he quoted Luke 6:46 that says, ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say?’ And the verse hit me like just a ton of bricks. I started to reflect on that verse even in the game, at nighttime I'm thinking to myself, that's me.”

His spiritual life was further challenged when he met Dr. Hepburn, a pastor who began discipling him. 

Dr. Hepburn: “I looked to him and said, ‘I could tell you how to be great. And I know that God can lead us all into our greatness.'”

Will Dawson: “What was his response to you?”

Dr. Hepburn: “Jonathan responds uh, ‘I already know Jesus.’"

Jonathan: “Oh, I did say that.”

Dr. Hepburn: “And he kept it moving. He – but he didn't know Jesus. He didn't know. He was doing his thing.”

Over time their friendship helped Jonathan consider a relationship with Jesus. Dr. Hepburn prayed for him after an injury his rookie season.

“And I'm thinking to myself, I've never heard anybody pray like that,” says Jonathan. “I get home that night and I hadn't knelt down to the side of my bed since I've been in Orlando at all. But I knelt down and I was like, ‘God cares about me.’ And that was something that was so big for me because I was so used to working for love, working for acceptance, working for attention to where I was like, I know that I had nothing to do with all of these coincidences and circumstances, but somebody had to be looking out for me.”

Jonathan gave his heart to God. With the help of his mentor Dr. Hepburn he began growing in his faith. 

Will Dawson: “But the anxiety didn't go away after that. How were you better equipped to deal with it?”

Jonathan: “He would always talk about speaking the Word and saying it out of your mouth so your ears could hear it, developing your relationship with Christ. I think for me, the thing that helped me and is still helping me conquer anxiety time and time again is being able to look back on these small moments of when I did choose to fight, I did choose to stand, I did choose to, even though I was afraid, to do it anyway and seeing that God was there for me in those moments. That has helped me to, if I come against another moment like that, I'm like I know that God has me.”

This season, Jonathan’s goal is to stay healthy and take the Magic back to the playoffs. Even more than that, under the microscope of fans and media, Jonathan’s focus is no longer on himself and his anxieties, but on others.

“I want to be an advocate for the people who do struggle with anxiety and fear and give them a blueprint that you can defeat it and you can combat it with the Word of God, with the love of God, and with having the right people around you,” says Jonathan. 

“I think the biggest thing for me that I wanted people to see from the book is to get that. For me, it was a journey. I didn't come to having this one courageous moment just because I developed that courage right then and there. It was a process. And to really put Christ on display that it's evidence that He really can transform your life because He's doing that – He's done that for me. I want my NBA career to just be a platform for Christ.”

To purchase Jonathan's book, "Why I Stand," please visit: https://www.amazon.com/Why-I-Stand-Jonathan-Isaac/dp/1956007067/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3EX61YJH2HJPW&keywords=jonathan+isaac+book+why+i+stand&qid=1662735341&sprefix=jonathan+Issa%2Caps%2C64&sr=8-1

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