The USA men’s basketball team is without one of its key players- not Kobe, not LeBron, not Russell Westbrook. The missing player is one whom no one ever talks about- the team chaplain.
During the NBA season, a chapel service is held for both teams before every game. But for this year’s Olympics, the organizing committee reduced the number of chaplains available to athletes.
For most Olympic athletes, winning a gold medal is the only focus and everything else is considered a distraction. But for others, chapel has importance as well.
“To be able to go there and to spend that time with the Lord before you go out and compete, it’s great,” says first time Olympian Harrison Barnes. “To be able to have it here leading up to Rio was great as well, just to keep that routine.”
Even though a formal chapel is no longer in the daily routine, some guys have been meeting together anyway. “We have guys that take the place of a chaplain, I guess. But for the most part, we just try to get together and share our experiences,” says Kevin Durant, who is on his second Olympic team. “Nobody’s trying to be smarter than anybody else in that field, but we talk to each other. It’s a cool dynamic.”
Chapels are offered multiple times a day inside the Olympic Village, but the basketball teams are staying on a cruise ship away from the village. Athletes in Action has provided chaplains to both men’s and women’s teams in the past, but this year the chaplains were not given personal access to the players due to security and logistics.
Despite the absence of a team chaplain, assistant coach Monty Williams has taken on the role of spiritual mentor.
“I think that he’s done a good job,” said Barnes. “He brings us together and just has us talk about the [Bible].”
“We’ve had some pretty cool Bible studies where guys have been able to just get into the Word and pray and talk about a few issues that we all deal with,” added Williams. “The Word--it’s the only truth we have.”
The studied Scriptures have included Romans 1 and Psalm 1, which Williams mentioned was his favorite Psalm. “It’s a Psalm that you can use for any situation in life, but it really speaks to where we are as athletes and coaches. A lot of your life will be based on who you hang with and listen to,” noted Williams.
Though the full-time chaplain is forced to sit on the bench, the players enjoy having their assistant coach sub in.
“[Monty]’s been great. Just his ability to relate to you as a player, as a coach, on the court and everything like that and off the court as well- just anything that you’ve gone through in life, I mean he’s been there. He’s been an NBA player, he’s raised a family, he’s had hardship in his life, so he can talk to you about pretty much everything,” said Barnes.
Williams seems to enjoy it, too.
“It’s awesome to be able to get together with younger brothers who have had a ton of success and yet love the Lord and are seeking Him daily. I’m just a vessel that the Lord has used along with BJ Johnson [team assistant director] and Joe Sharpe [athletic trainer] and a number of guys who have been a part of our Bible studies.”
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