DALLAS (BP)–Former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, fired just two years after leading his team to within two games of the NBA title, told the annual NBA All-Star Breakfast that faith has helped him overcome adversity.
The current ABC-ESPN NBA broadcaster said he hopes to have another chance to coach in professional basketball but is putting his timetable in God’s hands.
“The way you overcome adversity is by having a dream,” Johnson told nearly 400 people at the Feb. 13 breakfast sponsored by international sports ministry Athletes in Action at the NBA players’ hotel in downtown Dallas before Sunday’s All-Star game, a 141-139 East victory.
“When I was growing up in the inner city of New Orleans, my body may have been there, but my mind wasn’t there,” Johnson recalled. “Growing up around the Word [of God], I wanted to be sharing the Gospel and helping people know God spiritually. I started with a thought, then a dream, now a purpose.”
Johnson said he doesn’t harbor any bitterness over his firing in the same city where he spoke. “Sometimes you need to change your friends, change your acquaintances, sometimes God just needs to slow you down,” he said.
After Johnson spoke, AIA honored former Heisman Trophy winner and NBA star Charlie Ward and original Mavericks owner Don Carter with two of its highest awards.
Ward, the only player in NBA history to win the Heisman trophy as a quarterback and also lead his team to the NBA final with the New York Knicks, received the Bobby Jones Award for strength of character and integrity as a player on the court and on the gridiron.
He was introduced by his former Knicks teammate Allan Houston. The two aided each other spiritually as accountability partners in the often-worldly life of the NBA.
“One thing I have learned is to be humble before God,” Ward said, “and let Him get all the glory. In everything I do, I want to act as if God is my one and only audience and everything we do is about pleasing Him.”
After winning college football’s Heisman Trophy in 1993 and leading Florida State to a national title, Ward joined the New York Knicks in 1994 and played there for a decade, leading them to the NBA finals in 1999.
In addition to fellow believers, Ward said staying grounded in God’s Word helped keep him steady in his faith.
“When we got into a new city, we knew we were going to have our Bible study and that helped keep us out of a lot of different temptations,” Ward said.
Carter received the Jerry Colangelo Award for character and integrity as an NBA owner.
Carter recounted how he brought the Mavericks to Dallas in 1980 and surrounded the team with godly men because he felt it was a step God wanted him to take.
“Only He could have designed what would happen with this team,” Carter said.
Early the next morning (Feb. 14), pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church and a former Southern Baptist Convention president, conducted the closed NBA players’ chapel.
“I was impressed by the number of godly men who are playing in this game,” Graham told Baptist Press after the chapel.
Art Stricklin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press.