On July 31, 2020, CNN published an article called “Jonathan Isaac responds after being the lone NBA player to stand for the national anthem.” Memories of May 2020’s physical violence and cancel culture over BLM loom large three years after George Floyd’s death. Isaac’s response at the time to his actions didn’t give his moral courage justice. The book he wrote afterwards comes close.
In 2022, Orlando Magic NBA Superstar Jonathan Isaac published Why I Stand. He traces his roots from the Bronx where his father introduced him to Christianity. His parents divorced when Isaac was young and he joined his mother and siblings in the move to Florida. Facing poverty and a sense of not belonging, he turned to basketball. He excelled due to his grit (and height) and soon earned a place on Florida State’s team. He entered the draft early and was selected in the first round by the Orlando Magic. During this journey, he admits he drifted away from God.
Despite his own doubts, Isaac had been told his whole basketball career he was going to be an NBA superstar. Once he became an NBA rookie, he experienced his biggest crisis in faith and personal confidence. He was soon befriended by a Christian and brought into the fold of a local church. There, he learned to accept God and when he did so he finally understood his place in the world. When he did so, self-imposed stresses lessened and he exuded confidence that translated into excellence in basketball on the court and morality and friendships off the court.
“Unconditional love is not tested when everything is good; it’s tested when everything is bad.” (150)
Now in his sixth season, Isaac has had a brilliant, but uneven, career, marred by injury and the COVID pandemic. Jonathan Isaac is somewhat unique in the NBA – an unvaccinated Black superstar athlete that is a devout Christian and a Republican. In his book, though, his political leanings are subordinated to his discussion about his real driving force – his belief in God. In fact, he never mentions his political affiliation. Even in this regard, his book is interesting as it is not a book pushing religion or politics, but rather a memoir of how a confused young man turned to God in his rookie year in the NBA to discover who he really was and how he needed to live his own life. When this transformation occurred, he achieved the unthinkable – he formed his own opinions on COVID and race and had the courage to share his convictions. Given the fact that the NBA flashed its apparent lack of morality when it chose money over conviction in 2019 by refusing to condemn China’s Hong Kong violence, this courage is all the more astonishing. Not every player followed the NBA’s ill-conceived China stance that favored profits over freedom, but none of the 450 players in the league joined him in standing for the American flag in 2020.
Isaac expertly cuts to the core of the moral conflict destroying American society:
“There was a similar thread between the underbelly of the COVID vaccine campaign and the BLM organization. The messaging of both goes like this: What’s happening is bad. Trust us, we know how to handle/fix it. Our way is the only right way. And the masses of well-meaning people under this chain of command of sorts follows along, no questions asked. There is something deeply wrong with this mentality.” (201)
Admittedly, this review is slightly delayed. However, its relevance grows as time marches on. 2023 sees an America still embroiled in a bitter debate over vaccine rights, race, transgenderism, and freedom of speech and religion. With the next respiratory season and election year coming soon, tensions are destined to soon rise even higher as America teeters toward another civil war. Isaac’s book is a must read. Although still a young man, his wisdom to find a better way to examine and solve societal problems puts him years ahead of his peers.
“Learning the truth of who I am – a beloved child of God – gives me the strength to stand for the Truth.” (203)
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