O Say, Can You Stand? with NBA Forward Jonathan Isaac

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This is a podcast episode titled, O Say, Can You Stand? with NBA Forward Jonathan Isaac. The summary for this episode is: <p>Remember the name, Jonathan Isaac, from back in 2020? Isaac was the lone NBA player <strong>not</strong> to kneel for the national anthem amid a league-wide demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter following George Floyd's death. In today's episode, <a href="https://twitter.com/KeithSimon_/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Keith</a> sits down with him to discuss this decision and other revelations from his recent book, "Why I Stand." Hear Isaac open up about his past mental health struggles with anxiety and how he ultimately found freedom in Christ by way of the people God put in his path. Plus, what's it really like to be a Christian in the NBA? Find out!&nbsp;</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Ok, truth time... Did you like this episode?</strong> Tell us by leaving a rating or review! 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 If you did, you won't want to miss what's next (so subscribe now!). And help a friend by sharing this with them. Thank you! πŸ™</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Plus, the conversation is just beginning! </strong>Follow us on <a href="https://twitter.com/truthovertribe_" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ChooseTruthOverTribe" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Facebook</a>, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/accounts/login/?next=/truthovertribe_/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Instagram</a> to join in on the dialogue! <strong>If you disagree with anything in this episode, </strong>we'd love to hear your thoughts <a href="https://choosetruthovertribe.com/dissent" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">here. </a> <strong>Want to learn more about Truth Over Tribe?</strong> Visit our <a href="https://info.choosetruthovertribe.com/subscribe?utm_campaign=TOT%20Campaign%203B&amp;utm_source=Show%20Notes%20" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">website</a> and subscribe to our weekly <a href="https://choosetruthovertribe.com/?utm_campaign=TOT%20Campaign%203B&amp;utm_source=Show%20Notes%20-%20website" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">newsletter</a>.</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Resources:</strong></p><p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09SJ4SNPX/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Why I Stand</a></p><p><a href="http://info.choosetruthovertribe.com/blog_subscription" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Subscribe To Our Blog</a></p><p><a href="http://info.choosetruthovertribe.com/how-tribal-are-you" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">How Tribal Are You?</a></p>
Jonathans childhood and family
01:05 MIN
The beginning of anxiety
02:10 MIN
Building an identity in Christ
01:07 MIN
The NBA, and standing during the National Anthem
01:52 MIN
Talking to teammates about standing
01:35 MIN
Faith in Christ attributes to happiness, over wealth and fame
02:06 MIN
Jonathan closes with a prayer
01:04 MIN

Jonathan Isaac: My name is Jonathan Isaac, and I choose truth over tribe.

Keith Simon: Are you tired of tribalism?

Audio: I think a lot of what the left supports is satanic. The only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigotry and discrimination.

Patrick Miller: Are you exhausted by the culture war?

Audio: If they don't like it here, they can leave. You can put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.

Keith Simon: Are you suspicious of those who say Jesus endorses their political party?

Audio: Is it possible to be a good Christian and also be a member of the Republican Party? And the answer is absolutely not. From certainly a biblical standpoint, Christians could not vote Democratic.

Patrick Miller: We trust the lamb, not the donkey or the elephant.

Keith Simon: This is the podcast that's too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals.

Patrick Miller: I'm Patrick Miller.

Keith Simon: And I'm Keith Simon, and we choose truth over tribe.

Patrick Miller: Do you?

Keith Simon: Rhonda Rousey was an undefeated UFC champion when she was knocked out by Holly Holm. Appearing a couple months later on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, she told Ellen that after the fight she'd been completely lost. She didn't know who she was now that she wasn't a champion anymore. She thought she was worthless. And in that moment, Rhonda Rousey lost the will to live. Everyone builds their identity on something. Maybe your identity is rooted in having good kids or in your career or your appearance, or being the smartest person in the room, or being a good athlete, or even your religious devotion. If something comes along and threatens your identity, like losing that fight did for Rhonda Rousey, for example, if your kid's going a bad direction, or if you get fired or make a bad business decision, well, then your life starts to crumble. You get stressed and anxious. When he was 19 years old, the Orlando Magic chose Jonathan Isaac with the sixth pick in the 2017 NBA draft. He's an up and coming superstar in the league, as demonstrated by his four- year contract, reportedly worth$ 70 million, not including incentives. But it turns out that Jonathan Isaac is a lot like you and me. He struggled with building his identity on trying to fit in, first as a cool kid and then as a great athlete. The pressure to perform led him to panic attacks and even a trip to the hospital. And Jonathan tells his story in his new book, Why I Stand. The title of the book refers to his choice to stand during the National Anthem when the rest of the NBA was kneeling in response to George Floyd's death. How did the anxious kid who was eager to fit in, get the courage to stand alone during a moment when the whole world was watching? Let's find out. Jonathan Isaac, welcome to Truth Over Tribe.

Jonathan Isaac: Man, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to talk with you.

Keith Simon: Man, I read your book, Why I Stand, and it's, of course, the story of why you stood during the National Anthem while all your teammates were kneeling. But I thought the book was about a lot more than just that. It was about you becoming a Christian, becoming a follower of Christ, getting involved in this Christian community that encouraged you. You met your wife through that, how you dealt with anxiety that you'd had since childhood. I mean, there's so much in this story that I think everybody can identify with. So, if it's okay with you, I just want to start at the beginning. When you were telling about how you grew up, I love your dad. I don't know why, but I just thought he seemed like a really great dude. Can you tell us about where you grew up and your family and where your life started?

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah. I grew up in Bronx, New York, and big shout out the Pops, man. He was great. My parents had split up when I was 10. But for those first 10 years we were together, my mom, my dad, four brothers and one sister in Bronx, New York. We were in church every other day. He had us learning scriptures and whole psalms and all those things, to just keep us grounded and just teaching us. Yeah, we had fun and my life gets flipped upside down once we moved from New York to Naples, Florida with my mom.

Keith Simon: Yeah. But he seems like a good guy. You said you called him your Superman. And he worked as, I guess, a manager. I'm not exactly sure what, at the McDonald's in Times Square? What was that like?

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah, he worked as a manager at the McDonald's in Times Square. It wasn't anything. It wasn't weird. Even, especially as I detail in the book about us having to stay the night at McDonald's from time to time, because he was working the late shift, my mom was working and no one was able to take us to school in the morning because of when he'd get off and when my mom would get off. And so, we would have to sleep at the McDonald's with him while he's working overnight. But for us, we were just kids and so, it was like, " Oh, we get to sleep at McDonald's? That's a blast." And so, we had a lot of... but being able to look back it was definitely hard times.

Keith Simon: Well, the thing about it is, I was reading this story and I just loved your family, not just your dad, but your mom. You got this big family, just working hard, trying to do the right thing, being in church. That I was really, personally disappointed when I found out that your family split up. I was like, " I didn't see that coming." That had to be hard on you. Was it? I mean, when you moved, I know that you encountered some new people and that was a hard transition, but that split in your family, that's hard.

Jonathan Isaac: It was hard. And it was hard in ways that I really wasn't able to describe at the moment. It was something that I learned more about myself as I grew up and started to see the signs of not having my dad in my life in the same way that he was before. But yeah, it was tough and it did suck, but it was almost like my parents, and with us being in school, they were working so hard just to keep everything together and keep us in church and all these different things. They had a lot of underlying differences and situations that went on that just led to this big split between my mom and my dad. And so, she took us and we went to Naples, Florida, and me trying to, early on, trying to fit in and get these new kids to like me. Going from a black community to a white community, it was really tough. And there's a couple stories in the beginning that shows just how tough it was for me to fit in. And that was the first time that I developed a sense of self- awareness, like, okay, an anxiety and fear about being rejected and wanting people to like me. And so, that's where the anxiety and that self- insecurity started.

Keith Simon: And so many people deal with these mental health issues. Anxiety is such a common thing that people struggle with. And so, when you look back on your life, you think the anxiety started with trying to fit in and get other people to approve of you? Is that right? I mean, can you identify what led to the anxiety starting to grow?

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah, I think it was exactly that. Growing up in New York, first, I grew up the same way that everybody grew up around me. And so, our peers were the same, we acted the same. We were very aggressive and horseplaying, all these things. And I just pretty much was immersed super quickly at 10 years old into a different culture, in a different place in the way people did things. I came in like, " Okay, I'm a kid here, let's have fun," but I wasn't initially accepted or I wasn't the best at trying to get other kids to like me. And so, that's definitely where that anxiety and self- awareness started. I think that first story about me being in the principal's office and my mom being called, and the principal being terrified for the other kids when I just wanted to play. And that was the first time being like, shrinking back into myself and saying, " Ah man, I'm not doing this the right way." And that's definitely where it started.

Keith Simon: Yeah. When you start feeling like you're the other, you're the outsider, you're the one that everybody's scared of, I mean, that would be incredibly hard on all of us. So, you start playing basketball, but it's just in the YMCA. You're just playing there and some people take notice of you that you're pretty good, or at least have potential, and you join his travel team and you get kicked off the travel team, right? I mean, you don't even tell the story in the book. You're like, no, it's so embarrassing, I guess, you won't even tell the story. But can you imagine being the coach that kicked off sixth- round draft pick in the NBA draft off their travel team? What was up with that? Were you that bad?

Jonathan Isaac: I was. And so, I think early on, I was just like, " Well, it is what it is. Maybe this basketball thing isn't necessarily for me." But I had a quick turnaround with finding another coach that really took an interest in my development. But yeah, it was weird, because I know I had messed up on that tournament, I know I had lost the game for us in a really bad way, but yeah, my ride just stopped picking me up for practice, and then I got the message. But it all worked out.

Keith Simon: It's pretty brutal, though. I mean, they just stopped picking you up. They don't even have the courage to tell you that you're kicked off, you're just out. And so, did you just think about quitting, walking away from basketball? Or, I guess, enough people rallied around you at the time to keep you going.

Jonathan Isaac: Well, I loved basketball, not even in the playing sense, but I loved the game and just the art of it all. And so, I was still around it and still playing with my older brother, Jacob. And that's when my cousin, that was already in Florida, who was around my age, told me about the travel team that he was on and that's when I got hooked up to Bora.

Keith Simon: One of the things that is a theme in your book is that there were people who took an interest in you and invested in you. Coach Bora, that you just mentioned, Dennis Gates becomes a key figure in your life, Ron, your mom's boyfriend. I guess, what would you say to men and how they can have an influence in young kids' lives? Because I don't think you'd be where you are today if these other men hadn't come along and encouraged you and come alongside and built a relationship with you.

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, is exactly what you said. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have these different people who saw greatness in me when I didn't see it in myself. And especially coming from an open household where my dad wasn't in my life anymore. I really didn't have that strong male figure or sounding board. I was dealing with everything that I was feeling and going through in my own mind. And so, to have these different guys, Coach Bora, Gates and Ron take an interest in me and really just want to develop me and pour into me, it was everything. Almost like it got me to the next stage and next level of my life. And ultimately, Doc is the one who just takes it away later in the book. But I would say to men to just do it. Find young men and individuals around you in your community, in your church, that you can take an interest in and just build them up. Because it's something that I really did need.

Keith Simon: Well, it's like none of these guys were perfect. I think so many of us are afraid to mentor a kid or take an interest in kid, because we know our own faults, our own frailties. We're not perfect, so who would we be to take on somebody else? But Ron, he had his faults. He wasn't a perfect guy, but he took an interest in you, spent money that he didn't have, drove you to tournaments. Do you still have a relationship with him?

Jonathan Isaac: Absolutely. So, I still talked to Ron from time to time. And just as a thank you know, he was doing his nursing school thing and I paid all of his tuition-

Keith Simon: That's cool.

Jonathan Isaac: ...for how he invested in me. But none of them were perfect. Coach Gates, Ron, Bora, none of it. And so, I think that that shouldn't be an excuse to stop you from investing in the young men that are around you. And they need you because they're not perfect either. None of us are perfect. And so, I see them for how they invested in me and not for their faults.

Keith Simon: So, this anxiety thing started when you moved to Naples, I think, and it stayed with you. The way I read the book, if I read it right, is that you started getting your identity from basketball and, therefore, you put all kinds of pressure on yourself. What was that like? What was going on in your head during those basketball games? What kind of pressure did you put on yourself?

Jonathan Isaac: Immense pressure. And because basketball, for me, it really was my identity. It was the only thing that I saw in myself as good and worthy. And so, as I started to play basketball and I started to develop the friendships that I wanted in the beginning, it showed me that it's not me that people like or that people want, it's the fact that I can play ball. And no knock on them, even family. Even as I began to grow as a basketball player, the interest from my family and excitement and all those stuff, started to come around. Girls started to like me because the basketball player that I was, and so, it was so easy for me to attach my worth to the game. And I think that's something that we all do in one way or another until we're able to find their identity in Christ. And so it was tough. I put so much pressure on myself because I always felt that if I didn't perform on the court, then I would lose all of the love and attention that I had gained through becoming a good basketball player. And so, it just, on one hand, it forced me to work really hard and to become a great basketball player, but at the same time, I still had these underlying fears and anxieties that I was dealing with, that basketball couldn't sustain.

Keith Simon: Yeah, I think everybody can identify with that. Maybe it's not basketball. Maybe it's being the smartest guy in the room, maybe it's having a great family, maybe it's career success. There's so many things that we build our identity on, and as long as we building identity on something that we can lose, we're always going to be insecure. We're always going to worry, we're always going to be scared. Now, you mentioned you want to build your identity on Christ, so help us understand what you mean by that, because that's not language that all of us use or are comfortable with.

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah. The way that I would say was, the thing that drew me to Christ story, we can get to it later, but the thing that opened my eyes and helped me to breathe for the first time and relax and not have that anxiety so profusely was the fact that God loved me for me. It wasn't love that I had to perform for, it wasn't love that I had to do anything for, it was just constant and unconditional. And so, as I started to say, " You know what? It's not about what other people say about me, it's about what God says about me. And I'm going to focus on those truths. I'm going to build who I am on the solid rock of his word and what he says about me and his love for me," and that will help mitigate a lot of the fears and anxieties and insecurities that I was walking around with because at the end of the day, we all have them. And so, nobody's perfect. Nobody's 100% all the way there, and so, I was able to say, you know what? There's grace and mercy in a relationship with Jesus Christ and that's what I want to focus on. And so, I was able to start to grow and walk on the inaudible and say, I don't care if I make or miss this shot. God still loves me, and I still have people in my life that love me. So there just wasn't so much pressure on me and it's something that I'm continuing to grow in and mature in. But I would say that's, to me, what finding an identity in Christ is, it's taking what he says about you and his word over what the world has to say or what you have to say for that matter.

Keith Simon: Okay, so I want to get back to this story here in a second, but let's keep going down this anxiety route, because I think, again, so many of us can identify with it. You're building your identity on trying to fit in Naples. Well, that works somewhat, but not others. You find that it mainly works when you're good at basketball. So, now, people like you, but they only like you, at least in the way you interpret it, as long as you keep doing well on the court. Well, okay, now I could lose that if I have a bad game or things don't turn out as well for me on one particular night. And all of a sudden, that thing you're building your identity on collapses. So, you end up becoming a Christian. I want to talk about that in a second, but you end up becoming a Christian and you've start finding that your identity is found in God's love for you, not in your performance. But that doesn't just change overnight, right? Because you even talk about you're in the NBA and you're still struggling with these performance issues. So, it sounds like this a long process. Help us understand the battle that would go onto your mind, even after you were a Christian, about who you were and where your worth and value were found.

Jonathan Isaac: Right. It's twofold. On one hand, it's realizing that the love of God is constant and unconditional. And the only way that you can do that is in failure. You can easily get on a high of, " Oh, God loves me. I'm a Christian. Everything is great." And then, when something goes wrong, then you learn new things about God and you learn that you can trust God, not only on the mountain, but in the valley. And then, at the same time, I say that the next part of that is the way that you see things and the way that you appreciate things. Where I could say that I'm a Christian, but I can still appreciate my success on the court over what God says about me or over the love that God has for me or over my relationship with Christ. And that's something that you have to learn and have to be broken down. But I think the biggest thing that I would say is that God uses people, and so much about the book is about Doc and the church family and my wife and all of the people that were able to rally around me and see greatness in me and show me that unconditional love to where I was really able to trust it more and more and more. But it all came through different instances and a progression.

Keith Simon: Yeah. So you mentioned Doc a couple times, and if I'm pronouncing his name, right it's Durone Hepburn, is that right?

Jonathan Isaac: Durone. You said Durone Hepburn.

Keith Simon: Durone Hepburn. Okay. And so, he is a pastor of a church, but when you first met him, you had no idea that he was a pastor. You were in the league, you'd been the sixth- round draft choice after a quick stop at Florida State. How do you meet Doc, as you call him?

Jonathan Isaac: So, I meet Doc in an elevator and I'm still struggling with these things behind the scenes, but around that-

Keith Simon: Is this your rookie year?

Jonathan Isaac: This is my rookie year. So I get drafted to the NBA. I'm living my life. I'm trying my best to get a hold of everything that I feel like the NBA life has to offer and the world has to offer and I'm doing it. There were times where I was like, " I know I shouldn't be doing this," or anything like that, but I was enjoying it. And I get injured on the court, and so, I'm not playing right now. And this guy stops me on an elevator one day and says, " I can tell you how to be great." And I'm like, " Tell me how to be great? Okay, what?" And he says, " You have to know Jesus."

Keith Simon: Now, did he know who you were at this time? Did he know you're an NBA player or he just talks to random people on elevators?

Jonathan Isaac: If you ever meet Doc, you'll see. He just talks to random people... elevator. But no, he didn't know who I was, and it was something that we talked about after that meeting that that's what I did. And so, he thought I'd played ball overseas. But yeah, he introduced himself. He said, " I can tell you how to be great and that you have to know Jesus." And I was like, man, in the back of my mind, I'm like, " I know Jesus. I'm a Christian," all these different things. But then from that point on the story just goes left to right? Like to me, it's a beautiful story of God just ordering footsteps and things being ordained. And ultimately, God trying to reveal himself to me and get my attention. And so, ultimately, later on in the story, it's revealed that Doc is a pastor and I start going to his church and developing a friendship with him.

Keith Simon: So, you're in the NBA, you're hurt, which is tough, because here, you're the one that the organization has pinned their hopes on. I mean, you're their top draft choice and you're sitting out. Your teammates, you're not connecting with them much, because you're doing rehab while they're playing, practicing, traveling, all that stuff. Did that reignite some of the insecurities that you had dealt with? The anxiety that you had dealt with? The injury, the being disconnected from the teammates, all that stuff, did that reignite some of those insecurities?

Jonathan Isaac: Absolutely. And I wouldn't even say reignite. I would say they were already there. Even with getting drafted to the NBA, with the mindset of developing my relationship with Christ, it was still constant. I was still the number six draft pick, but I was still dealing with those same insecurities. And now, just at a higher level because this is the NBA. So now, we have the fans and we have the medium, we have all those people who can say, " Ah, Jonathan Isaac is a bust. He's not who we thought he was." And so, all of those things are playing in my mind, in my heart, like, " Oh, the city's not going to like me anymore if I don't play well, this, then, the third." And then I get injured, and so, now, there's that riff with me and my teammates. And I, obviously, want to fit in with them. I want them to like me, but now I'm not so much in the picture. And so, it was definitely a tough time.

Keith Simon: Yeah. So, I think all that sets up well to talk about your choice to stand when your teammates were kneeling. It's hard to put ourselves back in that moment, but it was a high- intensity moment in our country. The pandemic had started, people were scared of that. The NBA had canceled its season, and then ended up moving into the bubble down at Disney, George Floyd had been killed, and there was this intense pressure that we've got to do something. We've got to say something to stand up for this. It sounded like some of the individuals in the NBA, some of the players started to say, " Hey, we need to come together and make a statement that black lives matter." And as you hear all this conversation going on, what's going through your mind?

Jonathan Isaac: So, we have to back up just a little bit, because there was so much time of growing and having little moments of facing fear, facing anxiety and building that courage on the inside of me, with trusting God at his word and trusting who he is in a relationship with him that led to this moment of standing.

Keith Simon: Tell us about one of those. You talking about when you preached, maybe?

Jonathan Isaac: Well, yeah. I mean, when I preach, when I had that conversation with one of my teammates, all those times where little moments of, I'm still as terrified as I ever was, but you know what? I'm trusting God in this situation. And so, being able to preach for the first time was crazy. And it was the little moment of, I'm standing, I'm learning how to trust God, and it ultimately led in this big culmination of being able to stand in the bubble. But around the time of what happened to George Floyd, what I tried my best to do was just take a step back and say, " What can I add to this conversation? What is the best way to go about this?" And as we get into the bubble, there is a pressure for everybody to kneel for the National Anthem and to wear the Black Lives Matter t- shirt, especially as guys started to talk about it, guys wanted to make a statement and make a stand. As a solution, they said, " You know what? We see what's going on in our society when it comes to racism and we want to do this." And so, in taking a step back, I'm saying, " Man, I can't think of a better remedy or antidote to all the problems that we see, not just racism that plague the hearts of men, I can't think of a better antidote to that than the gospel to change the hearts of men. It's not going to be an organization. It's not going to be a movement. It's not going to be a moment of protest or anything like that, that's going to change the hearts of men. It's going to be Christ." And so, I decided that I didn't want to go along with anybody's narrative or what anybody was painting as the right way to go about things. So, I decided to be the only one to stand and pretty much declare that same message that, " Listen, we all fall short of God's glory. We all do things that are wrong, and this is a wrong moment that was caught on camera and, obviously, exploded, but we all need grace and we all need mercy and we all fall short. And if we all humble ourselves and ultimately love each other the way that God loves us, which is in spite of our sin, in spite of our faults, then we could make real progress and have real change."

Keith Simon: Okay, we'll get back to the show in a second. Hey, when we started this podcast, we had this theory, we were going to have a dissent page in which we were going to interact with people who disagreed with this, but we've never been able to get it off the ground. So could you help us?

Patrick Miller: Just tell us how you disagree. I mean, I've asked so many people, " Hey, here's this page go tell us how you disagree. And no one will tell us how they disagree, even though I know they do. Now, I know it takes a little bit of time to write a dissent, but if you do it, we may share that in an upcoming newsletter, so you can reach all of our listeners who heard all of the awful things that we said and tell them all the ways we're wrong. Isn't that fun?

Keith Simon: It's your opportunity to tell everybody what idiots we are and here's the deal. I promise that I will be charitable. In other words, we don't want to embarrass you or try to dunk on you, we want to interact with you. Now, I don't know what Patrick will do to you, but I promise, I promise, I'll have velvet gloves on.

Patrick Miller: So click the link in the show notes if you disagree with what we're saying or what we've said in the past and share your dissent.

Keith Simon: Otherwise, we going to kill this whole dissent thing, so please help revive it. I obviously respect that. And I agree with everything you just said, but my guess is that there were people who were saying to you, "Can't you do both can't you wear the Black Lives Matter t- shirt, kneel and believe that Jesus is the ultimate solution to these problems?" I'm guessing. But I really don't know. I'm just guessing there's something about either the organization, Black Lives Matter, or something about kneeling that turned you off, so that you felt like you couldn't do both.

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah, well, it was just the tone of the message that I didn't agree with as well. It was, part of the way that I saw it is, they made it seem that the only way that you can show that you care about black lives in this moment is to do what we tell you to do. And that is to kneel for the National Anthem and wear a Black Lives Matter t- shirt. That's the only way to support black lives. And I felt like in the moment, it was like, because of what happened to George Floyd, we now have the moral high ground because of what happened. And so, now, we can get everyone to do exactly what we want them to do until we want them to stop. And you saw that on social media, you saw that with posting black squares, you saw that with all these organizations coming out and needing to pledge their allegiance to the Black Lives Matter movement. So it was just something that I didn't agree with. And even talking about the organization, I didn't agree with their principles or where they were coming from, or the tone of their message. I think that time could've been a time of healing and bringing people together in love, but I felt that it was divisive. To me, putting on the t- shirt was to co- sign the Black Lives Matter organization and the heartbeat and the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement and that's not something that I agree with.

Keith Simon: So, just think, you're a guy who's dealt with anxiety, trying to fit in trying to be accepted, trying to be approved of your whole life. And now, here, in this crucial moment, your life has been changed by Christ. You've seen him be faithful to you in all the small ways, that now you have the courage. I'm sure you are nervous about it. I'm sure you were anxious, scared to death. But teams have to stick together, right? I mean, you have to be family on a team, you have to have each other's back, you have to look out for one another. And here you are, you're this young superstar on the rise. You're a guy, though, who's also struggled with injuries, and your teammates, my guess is, that some of them resented you for this. They weren't happy because you weren't being the family. You weren't being a part of the team. And part of you probably craved their acceptance. Walk us through that. I mean, my guess is your teammate's reaction was harder than the public's reaction.

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah, for sure, and it was tough. And I really don't even think people understand how high intensity the moment was. Firs, standing in the aftermath as well. I didn't sleep the night before. I was on the phone with my pastor the night before telling him, " I don't think you understand how big this is going to be." I hadn't signed my contract yet, my contract extension, I hadn't signed it yet. And so, that could've possibly been wiped out. People were getting canceled left and right for saying different things, during that time. It was tough. And I expected there to be a negative reaction. One side wanted to make everything about it completely political. The other side, I was a coon and an Uncle Tom, and so, it was just a tough moment.

Keith Simon: Did that come from your teammates or just people outside or were your own teammates divided about your choices?

Jonathan Isaac: Well, I'll get to that. But the coon and Uncle Tom was more social media and all that stuff. But after I stood, detailed in the book as well, there's a moment where we have a team meeting, a team meeting is called by the players and they're like, " We got to talk about this." And what I did understand is that it was a very emotional moment. You had guys who really did believe in the organization, the movement and, to them, I was hijacking the movement. I was making the moment about me. And so, we had a heated conversation. But one of the things that I progressed to them was like, " Look, you guys knelt for what you believed in and I stood for what I believed in. I see the same things that you see, and I'm not saying that there's not racist. I'm not saying that black lives don't matter, I'm just saying that I don't believe the answer to be what you guys believe the answer to be." I said, " I respected you guys' choice in kneeling and I just ask for that same respect in return." So, we were able to leave in a state of, I guess, agree to disagree. But it was something in me where it was like, I wish they understood and I wish they saw my heart in it, but because it was such a heated moment, it was hard to do so.

Keith Simon: One of the most amazing things is that after that game, you go to the press conference and you're sitting there and, your mask on and all, and a reporter starts the press conference. I think it was the first question, at least the best I can tell, and says, " Hey, you didn't wear a Black Lives Matter t- shirt, you didn't kneel during the National Anthem. Do you think black lives matter?" It was just a stunning question to you. A black man. You were probably caught off guard.

Jonathan Isaac: I actually really was. I really was caught off guard, and as I had more time to think about it, and even in writing the book, it really did show how crazy the times were and even how political things had got. And it's like, man, you being black is not enough to say that you believe that black lives matter, or you had to show your allegiance to this moment and this movement by doing this. And that was your, I guess, your calling card, to care about black lives, was to wear this t- shirt and kneel for the National Anthem. And if you didn't, even if you were black, your allegiance was questioned. It was just tough. But I think it just showed how crazy things had gotten, that that would be the first question, what she felt like she would have to ask that of me.

Keith Simon: If I could switch gears just for a second here. I've had the opportunity to talk with Michael Porter, Jr. He went to the church that I'm a pastor of and his dad is on staff with our church.

Jonathan Isaac: Not to cut you off, but I'm actually about to hang with Mike tomorrow.

Keith Simon: Oh, are you really? Yeah, so he and I have had this same conversation. And I asked him a question that I really want to ask you, too, if it's okay. So how much of your professional success do you attribute to hard work and good choices and how much of your professional success do you attribute to luck?

Jonathan Isaac: I wouldn't even call it luck. Obviously, I worked really hard and made some right choices, but I made a lot of wrong choices, too. And so, now, that I've developed a relationship with Christ and I have hindsight is 20/20, I wouldn't call it luck, but I know that ultimately God was ordering my steps, even in the time that I wasn't checking for him, even in the time that I wasn't believing in him, in order for me to get to this moment of having a relationship with him. But I would say a huge part of it is, to me, entitled to his grace and his mercy and me getting to this moment and not just because of all the hard work that I put in. Because yes, I made right decisions, but I made a ton of bad ones as well and they didn't take me out.

Keith Simon: Well, I like that answer. So, you're changing it a little bit from luck to grace. And, of course, I put it luck to be more provocative. I think grace is a good way to think about it. But it really does shape how you live your life. If you think that you have accomplished everything because of you or if you've accomplished it because you've been given this by God, it's part of his kindness towards you. It caused you to not look down on other people. It causes you to be more gracious to help people who are struggling. So I think you're saying that God has been gracious to you. And Jesus says, " To whom much is given much is required." You've been blessed with a lot of talent. You've got a great wife, you've got a good family, you've got financial resources, you've got a great church community. Do you feel the weight of the responsibility to use God's gifts to you wisely?

Jonathan Isaac: You know, absolutely. And that's something that my pastor, Doc, in the book has actually... We've had a lot of conversations about that behind the scenes. But I think even more now with this book coming out and people pouring in about how it's helping them and inspiring them and encouraging them, I'm starting to feel the weight of this is a responsibility and it is something to tend to and to steward properly and well. I just lean on the people that I have in my corner. Doc is so much more than just my pastor. He's a friend and a mentor and somebody that I can lean on. And obviously my wife and my church family, my family for that matter as well. But yeah, I would say I definitely recognize that I'm here for more than just playing basketball. It's a sentiment that I've grown in as I've continued to progress and have seen God's purpose for my life get bigger and bigger and bigger.

Keith Simon: I became a Christian in college. Didn't grow up in a Christian home. And the large part of why I became a Christian is I started looking at the lives of the people around me, in the fraternity house I was in and I just saw their lives were pretty empty. That all the things they were chasing were the same things that I was chasing in my life. And I could see where my life was going to be four or five years down the road if I kept going down and making the same choices that I'd been making. Eventually, that leads me to put my faith in Christ and follow Jesus. Right now, you have what I think almost everyone would say is a dream life. You've got everything that people would want, success, fame, wealth. Has that fame, has that wealth made you happier?

Jonathan Isaac: I would say happier in the immediate, most superficial ways, but not in anything that's deep and lasting. And one of the things that I tell all the young people, the young basketball players that I get a chance to talk to, is that I really thought that I was living. When I first got drafted in the league I was so excited, I was so happy to live the life that I thought that everybody wanted to have, but it didn't take long for me to have moments of taking a step back and say, " What are you doing? Who are you?" And I did have a deep sense of being unfulfilled in chasing not only the world, in a sense, but chasing the validation and approval of others. What I found is that when Jesus said that he came that we may have life and have life more abundantly, it really is the truth. And now that I've developed a relationship with Christ and have seen my life grow and change, and I'm married and all these different things, I'm like, man, this is the abundant life that Jesus was talking about. And it's not because of resources and all those things. All those things are great and I thank God for them and they're a blessing, but I would trade them all to keep my relationship with Christ, because that is what has helped me to become who I am today.

Keith Simon: Do you have difficulty merging this NBA life with this Christian life, devoted to Christ life? Do you find that those are in conflict with one another? Are there expectations on you as an NBA player that make it hard to be faithful to Christ or have you figured out that it's pretty easy to be a Christian in the NBA?

Jonathan Isaac: You know? It was a struggle. It was a struggle early on because there was still that part of me that was, I want to fit in with my teammates. I want to do this, I want to do that. At the time to me that was like, " Okay, I want to start developing this relationship with God and do right and please him." And so, those things were and constant battle inside of me. But I would say today, and just the ways that I've grown, it's become not easy, but it's become easier, because I know what it is that I believe and I'm more comfortable within myself. I'm more comfortable with my beliefs and being around other people. And so, I just try my best to live my life out. I'm not the one that's going to go to my teammate and tell him that he's a sinner and preach to him, but I'm going to be the one that's going to call them when times get tough and go sit with them and try my best to continue to develop relationships with them and just live my life out that way, and I found that works for me. Yeah, it's definitely gotten easier to just be myself and not want the approval or not need the approval of the people around me.

Keith Simon: Are you a trash talker?

Jonathan Isaac: Not really.

Keith Simon: Have you ever been?

Jonathan Isaac: I've never been. And I'll say what part of it is because of, I never wanted to hurt anybody. And so, when I was younger and I was on the court, this gives you a moment. We were in practice. I was in practice when I played for ISB, and there was another kid on our team and the coach had us going one on one-on-one. And the only way that you could get off the court was to get a stop. So I had the ball and this other kid was guarding me, and if I scored, he would've to guard me again and again, and again and again.

Keith Simon: And this is in high school?

Jonathan Isaac: This is in high school. Yes, until he stopped me. And I kept scoring on him and scoring on him and scoring on him, and the coach is getting rowdy, the players are getting rowdy and all that stuff, and I felt so bad. And so, I missed a shot on purpose so he could get it stopped. And so, it was always something inside of me, I didn't want to hurt anybody, didn't want anybody to feel bad, so I was never one that really talk about or trash about anybody. But I would say, as I've progressed and grown, it's been more about just showing. Just about, I would rather be a silent killer on the court than somebody who makes a lot of noise.

Patrick Miller: I love it. Jonathan Isaac, we really appreciate your time. I would encourage you to pick up his book, Why I Stand. It's about the stand, but it's about a lot more. And you can tell he's got a lot on his heart. What are you working on next? You got another book in the works or what?

Jonathan Isaac: I do have another book in the works, but it's early. It's super early. It's going to be called, It's Bigger Than Basketball.

Patrick Miller: Okay.

Jonathan Isaac: And there's even a lot of talks around turning Why I Stand into a movie?

Patrick Miller: Who's going to play you? Are you going to play yourself in the movie?

Jonathan Isaac: Somebody's going to play me early on, but we're still trying to figure out the point in where I would pick up and play myself.

Patrick Miller: Because people aren't going to be able to play basketball like you play basketball, so you're going to have to do that part, right?

Jonathan Isaac: Right. Well, yeah, it's exciting. I want to see where God takes it. But I would just echo your encouragement for people to grab the book. It is so much more than just about standing in the bubble or refusing the vaccine. It's about my story and my journey and how I got here and how God brought the right people into my life, and how I was able to battle anxiety and fear and insecurity through developing a relationship with Christ and a relationship with people who were Christ lovers. And so, go grab it.

Patrick Miller: Yeah. And we didn't even get into the vaccine stuff. You can pick up the book and read that. But Jonathan, would you close our time? Would you just pray? Would you mind doing that? Praying that we would find our satisfaction in Christ, or whatever you want to pray for.

Jonathan Isaac: Yeah. Father God, Lord Jesus. Thank you for this podcast. Thank you for this time. Lord, we just ask that you would just continue to help us and just help us to see you for who you are and to see what a relationship with you is so much better than anything we could ever have. If we have you, then we've won in life and we don't need things, we don't need accolades, we don't need the approval and validation of others, though, God, to set us where we need to be. And so I just, I cover this podcast under your precious blood, oh, God. The people that are going to hear it, help encourage them, inspire them, that as the days, oh, God, get darker, that the need to be able to stand for what you believe in is only going to become more necessary, but also more harder to do. And so, I would just encourage everyone to trust you at your word, to continue to follow you, continue to find strength in who you are in your spirit. So we just cover it now. Oh, God, we pray for the families, oh, God, that are going through this tragedy, oh, God that happened this week, that's happened over the coming weeks. So God, we cover them under your precious blood. But we pray comfort to their hearts and their minds, oh, God, as they go through this, and we just pray, oh, God that we would continue to be the light of the world for all men to see and draw people closer and closer to you. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.

Patrick Miller: Amen. Thanks, Jonathan. Thanks for listening. If you found this podcast helpful, make sure to subscribe and leave a review.

Keith Simon: And make sure it's at least five stars.

Patrick Miller: Stars stop. No, just be honest. Reviews help other people find us.

Keith Simon: Okay. Okay. At the very least you can share today's episode, maybe put it on your social, your favorite text chain.

Patrick Miller: And if you didn't like this episode, awesome. Tell us why you disagree on Twitter @ truthovertribe_. We might even share your thoughts in an upcoming newsletter.

DESCRIPTION

Remember the name, Jonathan Isaac, from back in 2020? Isaac was the lone NBA player not to kneel for the national anthem amid a league-wide demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter following George Floyd's death. In today's episode, Keith sits down with him to discuss this decision and other revelations from his recent book, "Why I Stand." Hear Isaac open up about his past mental health struggles with anxiety and how he ultimately found freedom in Christ by way of the people God put in his path. Plus, what's it really like to be a Christian in the NBA? Find out!Β 


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Today's Host

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Patrick Miller

|CO-HOST
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Keith Simon

|CO-HOST

Today's Guests

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Jonathan Isaac

|Professional Basketball Player, Author