Inspiring Athletes

Inspiring Athletes

A slightly belated NBA Conference Finals preview

posted by Chad Bonham

Chicago and Miami kicked things off last night in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with the Bulls’ surprisingly lopsided 103-82 victory over LeBron and company. Here’s a look at some story lines that will take you a little deeper than what happens on the court:

I-35 NBA playoff series an NBA first

Okay, so Oklahoma City has only had its own NBA team for three seasons, so the historic nature of the first-ever “I-35 Series” between the Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks may not be a huge deal. But take it from this Tulsa native who’s traveled to OKC and Dallas more than any other cities. It’s a huge deal.

For most fans on either side of the equation, the drive is roughly three hours, and just like another great regional rivalry, college football’s OU-Texas game, this series has the makings of a good old fashioned barn burner. Dallas shocked the world with a four-game sweep of two-time defending champions Los Angeles while Oklahoma City took out the scrappy Memphis Grizzlies in seven. Look for this one to go the distance with a slight advantage to the higher seeded Mavs.

But it’s really hard not to root for a young, exciting team like the Thunder who are led by one of the most likeable (and most genuinely nice) players in the league. Kevin Durant is a legit superstar and at the age of 22 has put himself in the conversation with NBA greats like Kobe Bryant, LeBron, D-Wade and Dwight Howard. In an interview earlier this year, he said to me, “My gift back to (God) is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can.”

I believe the kid.

Plus most of his teammates are just as down-to-earth as he is. That’s a true rarity in today’s over-hyped environment where arrogance is often rewarded and selfish play and showboating is (to a certain extent) encouraged. It will be interesting to watch Durant in his attempt to remain humble as the spotlight surrounding him gets astronomically bigger every day.

Korver and Wade on different (but similar) missions

Even though the Bulls won the top spot in the Eastern Conference, most pundits assumed Boston or Miami would emerge as the Finals representative. But after the Game 1 drubbing of the star-studded Miami Heat, Chicago, led by MVP Derrick Rose, proved they’re for real. Keep an eye on sixth man Kyle Korver who comes off the bench and adds a serious deep threat to the Bulls’ arsenal. We’ll have more on Korver in the coming weeks including a story about his charitable clothing company called Seer Outfitters, which benefits his African missions initiative.

Kyle Korver, Chicago Bulls (Courtesy of the NBA)


For the Heat, the most inspiring storyline is the return of Dwyane Wade to his hometown of Chicago, where his mother Jolinda Wade pastors Temple of Praise. Wade, who donated nearly $2 million to help his mother purchase property for the church, revealed last week that last summer he came very close to signing with the Bulls instead of the Heat. It’s safe to say that his hometown ties made the decision to stay in Miami that much harder.

Here’s a great feature that tells the Wade family’s incredible story:

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And in case anyone cares about my predictions: Chicago in six and (please forgive me fellow Okies) Dallas in seven.

The Inspirational Sports Report: Choi snags PLAYERS title, PGA golfer shoots “Birdies for ‘Bama,” and NBA team inspires flood victims

posted by Chad Bonham

For the next few days, I’ll be reporting from Fort Worth, Texas at the PGA’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. I’ll have a report from the golf course later today, but first, let’s review some inspiring sports stories from the past week:

K.J. Choi scores historic victory for Asia

PGA golfer K.J. Choi defeated David Toms in a one-hole playoff at The PLAYERS Championship at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL on Sunday. It was Choi’s eighth tour victory (18th if you include his international wins) but marked the first time an Asian player had won the event. In multiple interviews, Choi, born in South Korea but a resident of Houston, Texas, referenced his Christian faith and talked about how he prayed and sang throughout the final round to calm his nerves.

Choi made news in 2005 when he won the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro and tithed 10 percent of his winnings ($90,000) to the Korean Presbyterian Church in Greensboro where he attends every year during that event. No word yet as to where Choi might be making his next significant donation. In case your wondering, he earned $1.7 million with this latest title.

Click here to read a great Q&A with Choi after his PLAYERS Championship victory.

PGA golfer Jason Dufner shoots birdies (and eagles) for tornado victims

Every time Jason Dufner makes a birdie or an eagle on the golf course, he won’t just be lowering his score. He’ll be simultaneously raising money for Alabama’s tornado victims. Dufner, a 2000-graduate of the Auburn University, has pledged to donate $100 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle he makes from now until the Tour Championship in September.

Dufner created a program called “Birdies for ‘Bama” and launched it this past weekend at the PLAYERS Championship in Ponta Verde, Fla. Apparently the initiative boosted Dufner’s confidence who finished tied for sixth and racked up 16 birdies and one eagle. For those scoring at home, that’s $2,100 Dufner will be donating to the cause in the first of many tournaments to come.

“For the past 16 years, I’ve been proud to call Alabama home, and it was heartbreaking to see the damage and hardship for so many people there with the recent tornadoes,” Dufner told reporters earlier in the week. “I wanted to do something to show the people there that I’m thinking of them, but also to help the communities rebuild and put this disaster behind them.”

Amazingly, Dufner caught some grief from Tigers fans who reacted a little less than positively on various message boards since the tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa, home of bitter rivals at the University of Alabama. When asked about it, Dufner simply said, “some things are bigger than football.”

Click here to get Twitter updates on “Birdies for ‘Bama”

Memphis Grizzlies inspire flood weary city

It might have seemed like horrible timing. The Memphis Grizzlies were right in the middle of an NBA playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder when the Mississippi River rose to its highest level in 70 years and threatened homes, business and historical sites. But the team’s improbable run as the Western Conference’s #8-seed (having knocked off top-seeded San Antonio) turned out to be a welcome distraction from the city’s anxiety and uncertainty.

Grizzlies players, coaches and management have subsequently taken a supporting role in relief efforts. Head coach Lionel Hollins taped a PSA asking for donations to assist flood victims and the giving spirit continued at the following home playoff games at the FedEx Center where the Red Cross spearheaded more fundraising efforts. The Grizzlies also arranged watch parties at three area shelters complete with barbecue dinners.

Even though Memphis lost in an exciting seven-game series against Oklahoma City (a series that included a historic triple-overtime game), the team still gave its host city something to cheer about amid an anxious and stressed environment. Kudos to the Grizzlies for making believers out of us all.

Join Inspiring Athletes tomorrow for the first installment of “Hot Topic Tuesday” where we’ll ask the question, “Does character matter?”

NBA All-Star Kevin Durant on faith, family and fame

posted by Chad Bonham


Copyright 2007 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Ever since Kevin Durant forewent his final three years the University of Texas to enter the NBA draft, he has experienced a meteoric rise that few experts labeled a sure bet. Durant won NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 and the two-time All-Star most recently racked up back-to-back scoring titles (2010, 2011).

As he leads the Oklahoma City Thunder through another amazing playoff run, Durant might have to pinch himself as a reminder to remain humble. Onlookers might need to do the same when observing such a talented young man resisting the immense temptation to be like so many of his peers and cave to that natural inclination towards self-serving behavior.

Just prior to the season, I had a chance to sit down and talk to Durant about his career, his family, his faith and his desire to put God and others first.


Chad Bonham: What was it like playing in the World Championships last summer?

Kevin Durant: It was an unbelievable feeling; first of all, to play for your country, and to represent your country and your family, and the city and the state that you come from. Words can’t explain how excited I was when the gold medal game was over and we’d won. It felt like we’d won the NBA championship. It was a great feeling to represent everyone here in the USA and to come together with that group of guys and do something that nobody thought we could do with the team we had.

Bonham: As a former University of Texas player, do you catch any grief from the Oklahoma City fans who predominately support Oklahoma and Oklahoma State?

Durant: I’ve gotten used to it (laughs). They still boo me a little bit when I wear my Texas gear around. I always talk about my Longhorns. If we have a game the next day, I know they do a great job of cheering for us. I try to make sure people know I bleed burnt orange.

Bonham: What is the foundation of your strong faith?

Durant: It comes from my family. I went to a Christian school. I was always intrigued simply about how we got here. Why do we do the things we do? Who made us like this? My mom always sat me down and talked to me and I have spiritual teachers that help me out. I’m not perfect at all by any means. I’ve got a long way to go to become closer to the Lord but hopefully I can continue to stay on the path. I might take a few steps forward and take a couple steps back and take some steps forward, but I want to get better.

Bonham: How has that progressed over the years?

Durant: When I was young we went to church a lot but we didn’t go as much when I grew up and got into middle school and high school. There’s no excuse why I don’t go as much now. I should go more than I do. But in my defense a little bit, I go to chapel before every game and I have a spiritual coach I talk to and he’s helping me out a lot in my walk with the Lord. My teammates here do a great job too sticking together and always praying for each other. I always try to get better in my walk.

Bonham: I’ve heard from some teammates and others around the organization that the players really follow your lead, particularly when it comes to attending game day chapels. Is that something you consciously promote?

Durant: It wasn’t even me that started that. It was (former teammate) Kevin Ollie. He’s unbelievable. He got everybody going and wanting to learn more. I was just one of the guys who was trying to follow his lead. He was a big teacher in helping me do that and making me feel more comfortable in my faith around other people and being able to pray for other people and pray out loud and things like that; take those baby steps. I’ve been trying to do a better job.

Bonham: Are you encouraged to see a greater number of Christians—guys like Derek Fisher, John Salmons, Michael Redd, Kyle Korver and Blake Griffin—becoming more vocal about their faith?

Durant: It’s unbelievable to know. It’s good to see other people walk with the Lord too. We do so much in this league. A lot of people don’t know how they got these gifts and how they’re portraying them on the floor. It’s always good to let people know where all this stuff came from. To see other players in the league doing the same thing is a joy.

Bonham: People always talk about how down-to-earth you are. What’s your secret to staying humble in a world where it’s all to easy to get caught up in the hype of fortune and fame?

Durant: It’s tough man. I can’t lie. I can’t lie about that. But I always kind of pinch myself and say that any day this can be gone. In the Bible, (it says) the Lord exalts humility and that’s one thing I try to be all the time—when I’m talking in front of people or when people tell me I’m great, I (remind myself that I) can always be better. I always work on what I have now. I’ve just got to be thankful to the Lord for what the gifts He’s given me. My gift back to Him is to always be humble and to always try to work as hard as I can. I’ve got to continue to be that way. I know that if I try to get a big head, my mom is going to do a great job of bringing me back down to size. I have the best of both worlds with the coaches we have here and my parents and my family doing it back at home. I’m in pretty good hands.

Read more about Kevin Durant in the brand new book Glory of the Games. Each chapter tells the story of an Olympic athlete (i.e. Shannon Miller, Tamika Catchings, Michael Chang, Dave Johnson, Ryan Hall, Jarome Iginla, etc.) and how a particular biblical principle has helped them along the way on their journey to elite status.

Welcome to Inspiring Athletes

posted by Chad Bonham

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of athletes behaving badly. It bothered me 10 years ago but it really bothers me now that I have three boys including a seven-year old who loves to watch basketball, football, baseball and especially NASCAR.

Forget what Charles Barkley famously said back in 1993. Athletes ARE role models whether they like it or not. It’s their choice to either be positive role models or bad role models.

Over the past 20 years (dating back to my college days at The University of Tulsa), I’ve covered a lot of sports and interviewed a ton of athletes and coaches. After a while I’ve found myself drawn towards a remnant of sports figures who subscribe to the Christian faith–not just with words but by their actions.

Here are a few disclaimers for those who decide Inspiring Athletes is a blog worth following:

Disclaimer #1: Christian athletes aren’t perfect (no more than anyone else). So just because they get featured here doesn’t mean they haven’t or won’t make mistakes.

Disclaimer #2: This blog won’t exclusively follow only outspoken Christian athletes although that will be the primary focus. There might be some amazing stories that have nothing to do with faith but are inspiring nonetheless.

Disclaimer #3: If you’re one of those folks who gets offended when athletes thank God after a victory or credit Jesus for giving them the strength to make it through a tough competition or game, you probably won’t like this blog.

On that note, unfortunately, many Christian athletes have been either misunderstood (some think they’re saying God likes them better and helped them win) or have been a little misguided in their approach (some athletes actually think that God helped them win).

My belief is that God does bless those who honor Him. That doesn’t mean Christian athletes always win. And that certainly doesn’t mean one Christian winning against another Christian means God is showing preference. Most of the time, like Lance Berkman once told me, it’s just doing your best and seeing who’s better that day. God is more concerned about how athletes handle both success and failure. He wants to be glorified no matter what the outcome.

This is something I’ll probably discuss in more detail later because books have been written trying to discredit the Christian influence in professional and college sports. That’s a shame, but not surprising. Some athletes have been overzealous in their approach and it’s caused sportswriters and some fans to get turned off by the idea of athletes using their platform to share a Christian message.

But if you love hearing stories of athletes doing great things the right way and being a positive influence on fans, young athletes and their communities at large, Inspiring Athletes is definitely a blog you’ll want to check out every day. Some of the people you can count on hearing from in the near future include Albert Pujols, Kevin Durant, Bobby Labonte, Avery Johnson, Kyle Korver and Clayton Kershaw, just to name a few.

I’ll be posting at least five days a week (Monday through Friday) with occasional commentary when breaking news and special events demand attention. For the most part, here’s what you can expect:

• Monday Quarterback (what happened over the weekend in sports)

• Tuesday’s Hot Topic (commentary on the most pressing issues in sports)

• Wednesday’s World Changers (stories about athletes doing good things in the USA and abroad)

• Throwback Thursday (features and Q&A’s that will catch you up with sports legends of yesterday)

• Friday Feature (in-depth features and Q&A’s with some of the biggest names in sports)

There you have it. You’ve officially been invited to join me for Inspiring Athletes. Looking forward to sharing some great stories with you. Hope you like what you read. — cb

Join Inspiring Athletes tomorrow for a Q&A with NBA All-Star and scoring champion Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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