During the often violent Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, many athletes kneeled during the national anthem in a show of solidarity with the movement. But one man, Orlando Magic player Jonathan Isaac, stood instead.
Isaac is the author of a new book titled “Why I Stand” that details what led him to make that decision. He says his deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ inspired him to stand.
“I tried my best to see it from Christ’s perspective,” Isaac explains. “And so, as I looked out and saw what was happening, I didn’t want to join into a fight. I wanted to have my own mind, my own mindset, and stand and say that ultimately the love of Christ has been the difference in my life. And I want to portray that to the world.”
Isaac joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to chat about his book and how his relationship with God guides his life.
We also cover these stories:
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, delivers remarks in the aftermath of the deadly shooting Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says the Senate has no plans for new gun control legislation.
- Food and Drug Administration chief Robert M. Califf, a medical doctor, says that aftereffects of COVID-19 and mailing issues affected the FDA’s response to the baby formula shortage.
- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, accuses Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of fabricating evidence to tie Donald Trump to Russia.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: My guest today is Jonathan Isaac, an NBA player for the Orlando Magic and author of the new book “Why I Stand.” Jonathan, welcome to the show.
Jonathan Isaac: Thanks so much for having me, Doug.
Blair: Yeah. Two years ago, you made headlines as the only person on the court not to kneel for the national anthem during the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. To ask the question from your book, why do you stand/why did you stand?
Isaac: So, in order to answer that question, I have to go back, and that’s really what the book does.
The book starts at Jonathan Isaac as a young kid living in Bronx, New York, and takes you through the whole journey of his life, his struggles, his battles, where he was in that current time, and then to where he is today and what has ultimately been the difference in his life. And the difference in my life has been Christ.
So when I saw everything that was going on with Black Lives Matter, with George Floyd, as tragic as his death was, what I tried to do was not see it from Jonathan Isaac’s perspective, not even the black Jonathan Isaac’s perspective that was angry, that was heated, like, what is going on? I tried my best to see it from Christ’s perspective.
As I looked out and saw what was happening, I didn’t want to join into a fight. I wanted to have my own mind, my own mindset, and stand and say that, ultimately, the love of Christ has been the difference in my life, and I want to portray that to the world. And I know that that’s the thing that is ultimately going to change it for the better.
Blair: I think that’s such a great story, because in the description for your book, you even mentioned this, that you say this book is the story of how, through a series of divine connections and a willingness to follow Christ, your fear- and insecurity-driven life was transformed into one of confidence and purpose. What do you mean by that? What is the aim of the story here?
Isaac: Well, the aim of the story is, ultimately, that my dysfunction in my life was overcome by love. And so when we talk about the love of Christ, my story is not that I was searching for God, I was a committed Christian all my life, my story is that God found me. And when you hear the divine connections and the story, it really is something that you’d step back and be like, “OK, that could only be God.”
And struggling with love, growing up, struggling with anxiety and fear, and having a God who is the God of the universe come and find me, it gave me that peace and that solace and I was able to grow as a man and as an individual to where in two years prior to me standing, I wouldn’t have been the person that you would ever thought would stand for anything because of the fear that plagued my life. But as I grew, I am a man that’s willing to stand for what I believe in, in love, knowing that it has been the answer for me and believing that is ultimately the answer for the world.
Blair: So you’re following Christ and you are confronted with your team, and a lot of the other members of the NBA are kneeling on the court. What’s going through your head when you decide to stand?
Isaac: Well, I would say part of what’s going through my head is that I understand. I look out and I see the same thing as everybody else, but I also understand that it’s a greater fight and evil does not beat evil, evil only begets evil, anger only begets anger, hate only begets hate.
And you can get into this perpetual fight that’s been going on for years, but ultimately, if there’s going to be ground covered, if there’s going to be peace, if there’s going to be progress, someone has to reach across the aisle and show love. And so the Bible says that if you love only who loves you, what profit is there? You have to love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you. And in that there can be growth.
Blair: So do you view the way that Black Lives Matter handled a lot of these racial tensions during those years, do you see that as nonbiblical and not acceptable in a way that a Christian can follow?
Isaac: I think primarily with the Black Lives Matter organization, they’re antithetical to the gospel to begin with, but it wasn’t just saying, “Black Lives Matter is wrong. Black people are wrong in this situation.” I can’t get down with that. It’s both sides. It’s that both sides were fighting in a way to me that didn’t honor Christ at that time.
And what I tried to do was stand up and say, “Guys, look, we’ve all sinned. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. And if this thing is going to change, we need to step up and show love in the moment.”
Blair: What was the response for when you did that, when you stood? Were your teammates supportive? Did they have an issue with it?
Isaac: Yeah. Everybody was different. And again, this is a very emotional moment in time, guys are affected by it in different ways. Some guys have had prior moments in the past of dealing with racism. I’ve dealt with racism in my own life. And that’s also in the book. And so I understood it from that standpoint.
But yeah, certain guys were upset. Certain guys felt like I was hijacking the movement and making it all about me. But I tried my best to reason with them and rationalize that my heartfelt position was not to protest their protest, but to stand in the moment and say, “Guys, I believe that Jesus Christ is the answer.”
And I want that to be what’s stamped for Jonathan Isaac. I don’t want to just go along with a fight just because it’s what everybody else is doing, I want to be able to stand for what I believe in the moment.
Blair: Yeah. After the game where you stood, you were quoted by a California newspaper as saying, “I believe that Black Lives Matter, a lot went into my decision. It’s my thought that kneeling or wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt don’t go hand-in-hand with supporting black lives.” Do you believe that that was because of your faith, that you were saying that this way of dealing with it wasn’t necessarily and it was more through Christ that you were going to support black lives?
Isaac: Well, yeah. First and foremost, what I’ve been able to do in Orlando with my home church here at J.U.M.P Ministries Global Church, lead pastor Dr. Durone Hepburn, is be in the community and help people that look just like me and people who don’t look like me as well. And so I’ve seen what Christ can do, what the love of God can do, and showing to people around you and how that ultimately changes things.
And what I felt uncomfortable with in the moment was that it was made to seem if you didn’t kneel, and if you didn’t wear the T-shirt, then you were not in support of black lives. And that was the only way to show support for black lives. And so that’s where I differed.
Blair: Now, do you believe that Black Lives Matter has done anything positive? Do you believe that there was anything that you could salvage from that movement?
Isaac: Well, I think awareness, I think people, being able to highlight what is going on in the world. But my focus wasn’t Black Lives Matter, to be honest with you. The organization pretty early on and me feeling like Christ was the answer, I didn’t always feel completely comfortable vocalizing that inside of the movement. And so I was always on the outside.
And so my attention, honestly, wasn’t really there about what Black Lives Matter is doing, what the other side is doing. It was ultimately, “This is the message that I want to carry, and I want as many people to hear it as possible.” And now with being able to bring out a book, it’s saying, “This is my story and why I believe that Christ is the answer for the world, because he’s been that answer for me.”
Blair: How did you come to find Christ? How did you find him? Was it during your career as an NBA player, was it before then?
Isaac: Well, I grew up Christian, and again, this is the whole story of the book, the whole timeline, and just how crazy it was. But I grew up Christian. My dad was a really strong believer, but my parents split up when I was about 10 years old. And I left from Bronx, New York, to Naples, Florida, and had the biggest culture shock of my life.
I tried really, really hard to fit in and get these kids to like me, but I struggled, my nickname was Ethiopia for a certain time in my life while I was in high school. So I struggled with getting the acceptance of others and finding love. So I always had anxiety. I always had fear about being accepted by other people.
And so as I go through life, I go through Florida state—this is also in the book, but not a lot of people know, while I was at Florida State, I was on anxiety medication. So, I’m the No. 1 player in the state of Florida, I’m the No. 5 player in the country. And I get to Florida State and I am struggling to be big man on campus, what everybody’s expecting of me, to lead the team to the championship and all those things.
And so I get to Florida State. I’m dealing with the things and the behind the scenes nobody knows, I’m trying my best to play through it and play it off. But I ultimately get to the league, I’m drafted the sixth pick, and I’m still having these battles in the background while trying to be an NBA basketball player.
I got injured in my rookie year. And then that’s where the story starts, that a man, as I’m getting on the elevator one day, stops me and says, “I know how you can be great.” And I said, “How?” He says, “You have to know Jesus.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m a Christian. I know Jesus, all this stuff.”
And from that point on, the story just—I don’t even want to go all into it because I want everybody to get the book. But the story just takes a whirlwind of what I truly believe is God’s love and God’s grace just ordering my footsteps to be where I am today. And that man who stopped me on the elevator, not knowing who I was, he didn’t know who I was, that man ultimately went on to become my pastor, Dr. Durone, today.
And so that’s how I ultimately found Christ, but it really was the love of looking back and saying, “God, I could not have orchestrated this myself. There has to be someone out there who’s thinking about Jonathan Isaac. And I don’t have to fight for their love. They love me for me.” And that’s ultimately the love of Christ.
Blair: That is such a wonderful story. And I’m really glad you shared that with us. I guess my thought process here, too, is that you don’t seem necessarily to think that the way that the kneeling was performed, it was particularly helpful. Do you feel that maybe there’s a different way to fix the issues facing the black community that Black Lives Matter was addressing?
Isaac: Well, I think taking a step back, right, in such a heated moment as George Floyd’s passing and people are making their decisions on “we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that” and the other side is upset about it: “Don’t do that. Don’t do this.”
And it even goes back to [Colin] Kaepernick and Kaepernick deciding to kneel for what he believed in, in that moment in time. And I don’t agree with everything that Kaepernick said or Kaepernick did, but the response that he got from that.
And so it’s not to say that one side is right and one side is wrong. It is to say, “Look, at the end of the day, if we are going to move forward and fix this thing, to me in my heart of hearts and what I’ve experienced in my life, it’s going to be Christ, it’s going to be the love of Christ.”
And the love of Christ isn’t the love of the world. The love of the world loves you when everything is right, when you’re on their side, when you agree with them, and they love you until you make a mistake, that’s the love of the world.
But the love of Christ is different. The love of Christ is unconditional. The love of Christ loves first. It loves in spite of wrong. So if somebody wrongs me, it’s still my duty to love them because that’s how God treats me. And so I’ve done plenty of wrong, but God’s grace and God’s mercy keeps me and loves me in that moment. And so that’s the love that I believe is going to change the world.
Blair: That’s wonderful. Now, I’m curious, do you see yourself as an activist? A lot of players in the NBA right now, we spoke with Enes Kanter Freedom a few weeks ago. Do you see yourself in that same vein as an activist?
Isaac: I don’t know. I wouldn’t call myself an activist. I don’t think I take on that right. I think I’m just a Christian and I’m trying my best to live out my Christianity where I’m at. And it just so happened that on that day it happened to be in the NBA, standing for the national anthem.
Blair: Interesting. I guess more in that vein, do you have any thoughts on what your industry is doing? The NBA has come under criticism for their relationship with the Chinese. We mentioned briefly Enes Kanter Freedom, who’s been quite outspoken with this. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Isaac: Honestly, I don’t know much about Enes, I don’t even think I’ve met him personally and I don’t really understand much about what’s going on, the intricacies of the China fight or what’s going on. But again, this is my stand in terms of why I stand, and it was primarily about what was going on with Black Lives Matter at the time. But I’m not too briefed on the situation with Enes.
Blair: Absolutely. Now, as we begin to wrap-up here, I’m curious, it sounds like you are very strong in your conviction to follow Christ and to spread a Christlike message with the way you do things and, of course, with your book. If you had the opportunity to go back to that game and you could stand or kneel, would you make the same decision that you did?
Isaac: I would, I would 100%. And again, to the point of not wanting to interject myself into a fight and go along with it, as everybody else is, I tried my best to see above it, what was going on, and understanding that our fight isn’t against flesh and blood, and one person to another, but ultimately evil and the other things that are influencing a lot of the things that are going on. And so, yeah, I would do it again.
Blair: Before we go, where is your book available? Is it available online, in bookstores? Where can we find your book?
Isaac: Yeah, my book is available on amazon.com. I’ve got one right here, just so people can see the cover, “Why I Stand.” Head to Amazon and just type in “Why I Stand, Jonathan Isaac,” and get your copy.
Blair: Excellent. Well, thank you so much. That was Jonathan Isaac, an NBA player for the Orlando Magic and author of the new book “Why I Stand.” Jonathan, I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your story.
Isaac: Thanks so much for having me, Doug. I appreciate it.
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