Summer 2024

How NBA Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady influenced Judah Smith to become a pastor

Look at Tracy McGrady’s long list of career accomplishments, and you’ll find something surprising. I’m not talking about his seven NBA All-Star Game appearances, two seasons as NBA scoring champion, or even his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.

I’m talking about that time his basketball dominance convinced Judah Smith, the well-known pastor at Churchome in Washington and Seattle Seahawks chaplain, to give up basketball and pursue preaching.

For some background, Smith played basketball, football and tennis at Issaquah High School near Seattle. Smith and his basketball teammates impressed enough on the court to be invited to participate in a high school basketball showcase in Las Vegas in 1997, going in to Smith’s senior year.

Smith himself told the rest of the story on an episode of the Sports Spectrum Podcast last month.

“I got to play in front of Coach K and Roy Williams,” Smith said, “but … when I saw Tracy McGrady play, it is literally when I decided to stop playing basketball. And that is an actual fact. My dad can confirm that.

“I saw him play and I thought, ‘I am wasting my time. It is time for me to study my Bible and become a janitor at my dad’s church.’ So that’s what I did.”

Smith probably made the right decision. The churches he pastors have ballooned in attendance and influence. Smith can count 396,000 Twitter followers and pop star Justin Bieber among those who have been impacted by his ministry. And Smith descends from a long line of preachers, not basketball players, going back seven generations.

McGrady, on the other hand, was a McDonald’s All-American in 1997. He skipped college for the NBA, where he was drafted ninth overall by Toronto that same year. McGrady’s basketball exploits throughout his 16-year career helped inspire a new generation of NBA players.

McGrady may be retired as a player, but he’s still very involved with the game. He works at ESPN and regularly appears on The Jump, weighing in on the NBA’s biggest stories.

God used that high school basketball showcase in 1997 to help bring about His plan for McGrady’s and Smith’s lives — in very different ways, of course. McGrady’s future was NBA greatness while Smith’s, certainly, was not.

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