It’s easy to expect too much of Christian athletes. We love to idolize our sports heroes so when Christians find out that one of their favourites is a believer, they can make more out of it than they ought. But with the NBA finals in full swing and the Golden State Warriors still undefeated in the post-season, Steph Curry may be someone we can all learn from. I say that because of the way that both Christians and non-Christians speak of his character and his faith. In case you’ve been living under a basketball rock and haven’t heard of Steph Curry, he’s been called the greatest shooter in NBA history for his amazing 3-point accuracy and speed in ball handling. But his character is equally remarkable. Warriors forward Harrison Barnes says of Curry: “He’s probably one of the most humble superstars I’ve ever met. A lot of that is based on his faith. He’s a guy who not only talks it; he lives it. I think he garners a lot of respect in this locker room because of that.” So people who see him up close recognize a difference in his life, but what can we learn from him? To me, four distinctively Christian aspects of his faith-work integration stand out.
1. Faith in God helps us to face rejection. Although he’s established himself as a superstar now, Curry had to overcome a lot of rejection to get to the place where he is. He led his high school team to the state tournament three times and was the team’s all-time leading scorer, but even still, most colleges weren’t interested in him. One early scouting report said of him, “Far below NBA standard in regard to explosiveness and athleticism…extremely small…needs to add some muscles to his upper body, but appears as though he'll always be skinny…not a natural point guard that an NBA team can rely on to run a team.” Rejected by the colleges he sought out, he continued to believe that God had a plan and was happy to play for Davidson College, a small school half an hour from his home. Being humbled in our careers or our personal lives is seldom an experience that we welcome, but it is one of the things that shows what we truly believe about God and ourselves. Proud people refuse to be humbled but Christians gain a hearing by responding to humbling circumstances with grace and even gratefulness.
2. Knowing our identity in Christ helps us face failure. One of the characteristics that many accomplished people share in common is that their identities become defined by their pursuits. Their career is their life. Winning is all that matters. A Christian understanding of our identity in Christ can help us face failure with a completely different perspective. I love how Curry’s wife Ayesha described how he responded to losing the NBA championship last year: “As great an athlete as my husband is, one of his greatest gifts is his ability to keep losses in perspective. Last season could have devastated some people, changed their being, their whole personality. Steph was down for a little bit, and he wanted to reflect on how things could have been different. But by 'a little bit,' I mean two days—three at most. Steph wants that championship as much as anybody ever could. But he doesn't need that ring to complete his own sense of who he is and what he's worth. Win or lose, he's the same happy guy.”
3. Christian love helps us to be patient and gracious with people. Super athletes, like successful business people, are highly disciplined, and have exacting standards. It’s hard to have high standards like that and not apply them impatiently to everyone else. When Andrew Corsello interviewed Curry for an article in GQ magazine, they sat together in a private room and Curry was seated with his back to the street. Even still, most passersby recognized him and many came in to speak with Curry and share encouragement and personal stories. They’re interrupting his meal. And he’s in the middle of an interview. He’s got work to do. And yet Corsello notes: “In each instance, Curry isn't just gracious; he seems genuinely pleased to make the acquaintance.” He asks Curry about it. “Don't these encounters, cumulatively, exhaust him? … Is this patience of his a Christian thing, a church thing?” And Curry doesn’t hesitate in his response, “Yeah, that would be a church thing.”
4. Knowing our calling as Christian witnesses helps us to make Christ known. In the 2015 season, Curry broke his contract with Nike. The reason? He wanted to share his faith and Nike wasn’t happy about it. Specifically, he wrote his two favourite Bible verses, Philippians 4:13 and Romans 8:28, on his shoes and his sponsor wanted it to stop. With millions of dollars at stake, most people would cave. Instead, Curry went out and found a new sponsor. He said this, “I know why I play the game, and it’s not to score 30 points a night, but it’s to use the stage I’m on. I’ve been put here for a specific purpose: to be a witness and to share my testimony as I go through it.”
Curry is an exceptional athlete and will do many things that none of us could ever repeat. But the way he approaches his career as a Christian is something that we all can learn from. In an age where people are less and less sympathetic to Christian conviction, Curry models an open faith and witness to Christ that is accompanied by such humility and integrity that it is attractive to many on a very public stage.
May we all seek God for the grace to demonstrate that kind of character in our workplaces.
In awe of Him,