Summer 2024

Jonathan Isaac plays 1st NBA game in 904 days: 'God has me on this journey for a purpose'

Whenever one of Jonathan Isaac’s teammates was rehabbing alongside him the past two-and-a-half years, Isaac would tell them to look at him for encouragement. They recognized they had no room to complain when comparing their situation to his.

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Isaac is one of the few players who can measure their recovery timeline in years rather than weeks or months. He tore his ACL on Aug. 2, 2020, and didn’t play in an NBA game for 904 days.

That streak finally came to an end Monday night in the Orlando Magic’s 113-98 win over the Boston Celtics, who own the league’s best record (35-13 after the loss) and entered the game looking for a 10th win in a row.

Isaac collected 10 points, three rebounds and two steals in 9 minutes, 36 seconds of playing time as he works himself back into game shape. Two of his four made field goals were 3-pointers.

His return was the story of the game, and he gave all the glory to God every chance he could.

Asked after the game about the encouragement he gave teammates during his rehab, Isaac pointed to his faith in God as his source of inspiration.

“It’s not me,” he said. “I really to attribute it to believing in God and knowing that I have a purpose in this thing and it’s not over. I try my best to stay positive and just be around those guys and uplift them, and it worked out. I’m just glad to be back in this moment.”

The 25-year-old also acknowledged there were times he wondered if he would ever play again. Whenever those thoughts crept into his mind, he reminded himself that his long road to recovery was part of the journey God has planned for him.

“I have to thank Christ,” he said postgame. “Being able to go back to my faith and say, ‘You know what? God has me on this journey for a purpose.’ I know that I was made to play basketball. I was made to give glory to God on this stage.”

In honor of his return, Magic players and coaches were T-shirts with his name and number on them.

While the goal is to slowly work Isaac back into Orlando’s rotation, he was immediately tasked with guarding two of the NBA’s most dynamic offensive players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley made it clear he had no concerns at all handing Isaac such difficult defensive assignments right away.

“He talks about it all the time, who he is with his faith, his work ethic. … He’s a special defender and obviously, he’s adding those pieces offensively, but he’s shown what he’s capable of doing, so not afraid to do that in that moment,” Mosley said.

The Magic celebrated the win by dousing Isaac with water in the locker room.

In July 2022, Isaac joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast to talk about the injury and the ways he’s grown spiritually since he last played in the NBA bubble.

“From a pure basketball player’s perspective, the game is in my blood,” he said on the podcast. “I love basketball for everything that it is and everything that it has afforded me. I love the game. I’ve always loved it, so to be way from it or have to be on the sidelines and watch other people play it is absolutely tough.”

The time on the sidelines allowed him to write a book called “Why I Stand,” in which he shares his testimony and explains how his faith influenced his decision to stand during the national anthem in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Isaac’s hope is that the book will bring people to Christ after learning about what God has done in his life.

“I was living my NBA life doing my own thing,” he said on the podcast. “God came and found me. Why? Because He loves me, and He desires to be in a relationship with me, to make me better. So, I want people to gravitate towards finding out what a relationship with Christ is like and really diving into it.”

Orlando is now 18-29 on the season and hosts the Indiana Pacers in its next game Wednesday. Mosley said the team will see how Isaac’s body responds and determine how many minutes he plays on a game-by-game basis.

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