If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a fan of the NBA, you might be familiar with names like Travis Hansen, Thurl Bailey, and Fred Roberts. If these names ring a bell, you’re among the elite few NBA fans that know some of the Mormons that have played in the league. If you’re like me, you love seeing fellow Mormons do well in the NBA – if they can make it there. Seeing fellow Latter-day Saints succeed on such a big stage brings giddy grins and cheers to your being. Jimmer scoring 24 points against the New York Knicks was the highlight of the 2013-2014 NBA season for me. Man, that was a great game.
There are very few members of the LDS church that have made it big in the NBA. In fact, the number of Church members that have won NBA championships can be counted on one hand… okay… two fingers. Danny Ainge won two championships with the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986. Mark Madsen helped his Los Angeles Lakers team win championships in 2001 and 2002. This means that Mormons account for a meager .245% of all the players to have ever won championships in the league. Not exactly a slam dunk.
Why don’t Mormons succeed in the NBA? Or does it really even matter?
Here’s a list of some of current and former LDS NBA players and how their lives have turned out – on and off the court.
Danny Ainge is possibly the most well-known Mormon to have ever played in the NBA. As previously mentioned, Danny Ainge won two championship rings with the Boston Celtics and helped lead his team to the NBA Finals 6 different times through his 14-year career. Brother Ainge is the only individual on this list to have had a long-standing career in the NBA and continue to work in upper management for the NBA as the General Manager for the Celtics. If you are a member of the Church and live in Boston, you might know him as Bishop Ainge. In an interview with the NBA, he talked about balancing working for the Celtics, family, and his service as a Bishop. Danny Ainge is an outstanding example to those around him of what it means to be a member of the NBA family, and an eternal family.
Devin Durrant played for Brigham Young University and was named the District 7 Player of the year, a consensus All-American, and was honored as an Academic All-American twice. In 1984, Devin was drafted by the Indiana Pacers as the 25th pick in the NBA draft. He played two years in the NBA and professionally in Europe. Even though Brother Durrant didn’t make it big in the NBA, he has made it big where it really counts – family and Church. Brother Durrant has served as a full-time missionary in Madrid, Spain, bishop, counselor in the stake presidency, high councilor, mission president, and currently serves in the Sunday School general presidency. He recently made a big impression on members worldwide with his “Ponderize” talk, inviting members to pick a verse and study the verse with “80 percent extended pondering, and 20 percent memorization”. After his inspiring General Conference talk, Brother Durrant made my starting lineup.
Mark “the Mad Dog” Madsen was part of a championship Lakers team with two of the biggest names in the league at the time – Shaq and Kobe. Mark Madsen won a couple of expensive, shiny rings, and during his championship acceptance speech in downtown Los Angeles quickly became known for his goofy dance moves. During his speech, he showed off his Castilian Spanish that he learned while serving in the same mission as myself and Brother Devin Durrant, the Spain Madrid Mission (It must be a Madrid missionary thing). Mark Madsen retired a millionaire at the age of 34 after a 9-year career in the NBA. Brother Madsen is a true follower of Christ. Not every player in the NBA asks for a Priesthood blessing after a scuffle with a Laker’s teammate during a practice.
Jimmer Fredette took the nation by storm when he became the NCAA leading scorer during his senior year by shooting near half-court jump shots. Jimmer couldn’t miss. What BYU basketball fan doesn’t reminisce of the days of Jimmer Mania? Whenever he caught the ball, I would yell, “SHOOT!” He did, and would make it from virtually anywhere on the hardwood. Little did I imagine, that would be essentially the last I would see of Jimmer shooting 35 footers. Jimmer was drafted by the Bucks, traded to the Kings, then to the Bulls, then the Pelicans, then the Spurs, then… we’ll see. Jimmer was spurned by the Spurs on October 21, 2015 and will most likely end up playing in Europe. Brother Fredette is still a hero in my eyes, regardless of where he ends up playing basketball. He is off to a great start financially, and was sealed to his adorable BYU cheerleader wife in 2011 in the Denver Colorado Temple. His NBA career might have only lasted but a short moment, but his beautiful family will last throughout the eternities.
Shawn Bradley (AKA “the enormous Mormon and “the Stormon’ Mormon”), to regular NBA fans, might be remembered for his role in Space Jam, or as the really, really tall white guy that would always get dunked on. This notion was confirmed by ESPN when they produced a 30 for 30 film about Shawn called “Posterized”. Bradley played in the NBA for a total of 12 years with 3 teams including the 76ers, Nets, and Mavs. During his career, he averaged 8.1 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and 2.5 blocks per game. Not a flop by any means, but never played as an all-star or on a championship team, and was only in featured in highlights when he was dunked on because it was such an incredible feat of athleticism to dunk over a 7-foot 6-inch man. But Brother Bradley got the last laugh. He retired from the NBA with an estimated net worth of $18 million, bought a ranch, runs a school for troubled teens, has a beautiful family of 6 children, and currently serves as a temple worker in the Jordan River, Utah temple. Sounds like a tall order that he manages well.
Jabari Parker is one of the most promising Latter-day Saints currently in the NBA. Parker received national attention as the top-ranked high school player in the country. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, was interviewed by Katic Couric on Good Morning America, and was sought after by some of the top coaches in college basketball including Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, John Calipari of Kentucky, and Tom Izzo of Michigan State. Parker was the first black Mormon drafted in the NBA as the second overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, but suffered a knee injury in his first season where he only played 25 games. But whether or not Brother Parker is able to fully recover from his injury, the kid has his head on straight. He openly shares his faith on social media and is a great example to youth of the church worldwide. We’re prayin’ for ya, Jabari!
I Found Inspiration & It’s simple. I find peace when I’m with Jesus Christ. Happy Sunday — Jabari Parker (@JabariParker) September 21, 2014
I love seeing members of the church do well in the NBA. I also love seeing members of the NBA do well in the church. These men might not have their own shoe deal with Nike, they might even be known for less pleasurable things like getting dunked on. However, they are also known as righteous men that give generously, live the Gospel, and have a rock solid relationship with Heavenly Father. Shawn Bradley made his priorities clear when he said, “I value my family and my religion as number one.” Mark Madsen may have summed it up best when he said, “In the big scheme of life, basketball is a very small part of things.” After all, basketball is just a game.
Other Mormons that play or have played in the NBA (and their teams):
Brandyn Akana (Dallas Mavericks Assistant Coach)
Jarinn Akana (Denver Nuggest Assistant Coach)
Bob King (Boston Celtics Coach)
Thurl Bailey (Utah Jazz)
Tom Chambers (San Diego Clippers, Seattle Supersonics, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers)
Kresimir Cosic (Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers)
Travis Hansen (Atlanta Hawks)
Skousen Harker (Birmingham Bullets, Worceser Wolves, Edmonton Energy)
Mel Hutchins (Milwaukee Hawks, Fort Wayne Pistons, New York Knicks)
Casey Jacobsen (Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies)
Greg Kite (Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Knew York Knicks, Indiana Pacers)
Travis Knight (Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks)
Larry H Miller (Owner of the Utah Jazz)
Roland T Minson (New York Knicks)
Scott Pollard (Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers)
Mark Pope (Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets)
Kristen Rasmussen (Miami, Utah Starzz, Indiana Fever)
Fred Roberts (Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics)
Michael Smith (Boston Celtics)
Erin Thorn (New York Liberty, Minnesota Lynx)
Jennifer Hamson (Los Angeles Sparks)
Steve Hayes (New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Seattle Supersonics, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz)