Summer 2024

Cavaliers chaplain Jerry Birch says LeBron James 'is a believer'

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive season and much of the credit goes to LeBron James. The 33-year-old continues to get better and better with age, averaging an astounding 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the 2018 NBA playoffs.

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In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics on Sunday night, James played all 48 minutes and scored 35 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out nine assists in Cleveland’s 88-79 win in Boston.

His play on the court has been stellar. But off the court that he continues to make a huge impact as well. His LeBron James Family Foundation is based in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and he also is an active supporter of other non-profit organizations, including After-School All-Stars, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the Children’s Defense Fund.

But James also has a faith.

In a conversation on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2017, Cavaliers team chaplain Jerry Birch said James has a Christian faith.

“Many players are believers who don’t come to chapel. LeBron confessed Christ publicly early on on national TV. LeBron is a believer but he doesn’t come to chapel. Just thinking for a second to be in LeBron’s shoes gives me migraines. To understand the complexities and perseverance that he has to summon every day to be LeBron,” Birch said.

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Birch says James is more than just a future Hall of Fame basketball player. He says that it’s the brand LeBron, the man LeBron, and the Ohio-born LeBron that so many are drawn to.

“I’m a huge LeBron fan,” Birch told us. “Certainly as a basketball player but as a man. He came back to Cleveland, it was more than a business decision, more than a basketball decision, it was a calling. He HAD to come back. I always encourage him. He’s always cordial. LeBron is brilliant.”

The role of a team chaplain can consist of many requirements, but for Birch, it’s a very simple goal he has every day that he comes to the arena: to minister to players.

“My job isn’t to go in there and ra-ra, get them ready for a game. That’s above my pay grade,” he says. “My job is to teach them and inspire them to learn, understand and apply the Word of God to their life. To care for them. To pray for them. To let them know that there are many many people who are in their corner and it has nothing to do with basketball.”

James doesn’t speak much about his faith, but in 2015, in a postgame interview, he referenced Jesus Christ in discussing the return of two injured players.

“When you get your guys back, you prepare just as you prepare before,” James said. “There’s only one guy ever in the world that everything will be all right when He comes back and that’s Jesus Christ. Other than that, you can’t bank on nobody being OK.”

James and the Cavaliers travel to Oakland for Game 1 of the NBA Finals against Golden State beginning Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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