Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Trail Blazers' Robert Covington finding his purpose through rediscovered faith

For the first time in three years, Robert Covington did not change teams at the NBA trade deadline. An integral part of a 31-23 Portland Trail Blazers team currently sitting sixth in the Western Conference, Covington has found a sense of peace on the court and in his personal life.

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Everything changed for the 30-year-old when he started focusing on building a relationship with God.

“The real turning point was once I started to go back to church. I developed an understanding and a relationship with the Father and Savior,” Covington said after being traded from Minnesota to Houston midway through last season. “That’s what allowed me to get over the hump and to have a whole new mindset on everything in life. That was the releasing point because that gave me a new out and a new understanding of it all. That’s what’s helped me through this entire year. I had a different mindset on getting traded because I wasn’t in the same place as I was before.”

Forced to wear a mask this year after breaking his nose and suffering a concussion on Jan. 24, Covington is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Since March 1, he is averaging 11.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 46.4 percent from 3-point range.

The most important contributions he makes don’t typically show up in the box score, though. A member of the 2017-18 All-Defensive first team, Covington is widely regarded as one of the premier team defenders in the NBA.

While he produces plenty of blocks and steals, there is much more to his defensive game.

“Steals and deflections don’t measure defense,” coach Llyod Pierce, who worked with Covington in Philadelphia, recently told The Athletic. “It allows you to see who is consistently there, but it doesn’t measure how good of a defensive player you are. For Cov, it’s the things that you can’t measure that make him great.”

Off the court, Covington’s made it his mission to use his platform to help the next generation. He was the first professional athlete to work with the National Youth Foundation when it was created in 2017.

“Not a lot of kids have access to people like me, so I want to open myself to them,” he said in The Athletic article. “I realize my gift is to inspire, to give hope, and that’s what I want to do. That’s what drives me.”

More recently, Covington — who often competes while wearing “In Jesus’ Name I Play” wristbands — awarded two $25,000 scholarships to students attending Tennessee State, his alma mater, as part of the All-Star festivities. He also donated $1 million to the school in November to build a new basketball practice facility.

When he participated in the Skills Challenge, Covington was highlighted as the only active NBA player who went to a Historically Black College and University.

That fact is not lost on him and serves as a motivation to maximize the gifts God’s given him.

“God puts you in this life, and He wants you to fulfill things to the fullest,” Covington said in a 2018 interview with Sports Spectrum. “Through that, I believe my purpose is helping to give back. That’s been my main thing. I do what I do for the kids, to give them an outlet, some enjoyment and also potentially change some peoples’ behavior for the better.”

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