The long-delayed NBA pre-season starts Friday, much to the delight of the nation, and, of course, the Jimmer Fandom (Jimmermaniacs?). And as I reviewed the information I’ve clipped about Mormons in basketball, I faced a surprising conclusion: Jimmer is the only Mormon currently playing in the NBA. Could that be right? If it isn’t, I’d love to know. And if it is, perhaps that is a reason for Jimmer to be named Mormon of the Year?
If it is correct, then its kind of surprising. Ten years ago there were five Mormons playing in the NBA: Shawn Bradley, Travis Knight, Mark Madsen, Scot Pollard and Mark Pope. In contrast, other sports seem to have either a stable or an increasing number of Mormons. Baseball has had about 9 or 10 active players for the past decade, Football has had dozens of Mormons playing each year (34 this season) during that time and even relatively small and foreign sports, such as Rugby, have more active Mormon players than basketball does now! The only major sport that may have fewer Mormons playing professionally than basketball is soccer, as far as I can tell.
Why is this so? I suspect the answer lies in several facts. Perhaps most importantly, the size of basketball teams is relatively small—15 at most—compared with baseball (40 max) and football (75). [The total number of teams in the NBA, MLB and NFL is nearly identical. (The NFL has two more than the others)]. Meanwhile, Basketball has substantially increased in popularity compared to the others, making competition for the few spots on NBA teams hypercompetitive in comparison. And, perhaps most importantly, the traditional college teams for Mormon players (BYU, Utah, USU, etc.) simply haven’t recently produced NBA caliber players (at least not at the current standards until Jimmer) from what I can see. [I should note that I don't really follow basketball, so other opinions on this point may be more valid. Please feel free to set me straight.]
Despite all of this, I should mention that there are other Mormons playing professional basketball — just not in the NBA. In my notes I’ve found three:
- Chris Burgess—Currently with the Trefl basektball club of Sopot, Poland, Burgess has made an almost decade-long career hopping between various teams in leagues around the world.
- Lee Cummard—Playing in Japan on the Kyoto Hammaryz after playing for the NBA Development League’s Utah Flash and a summer at Alba Berlin in 2010.
- Jonathan Tavernari—A Brazilian, Tavernari joined the Brazilian National Team in 2009 after leaving BYU and landed a position on the Italian team Pallacanestro Biella.
There is also some reason to hope for future Mormon NBA players, given the hype surrounding some college and high school Mormons, such as:
- Brandon Davies—Back on BYU’s team after his highly publicized suspension earlier this year during the NCAA tournament, Davies is likely the most promising player on BYU’s team this year. But whether he is good enough to pass the NBA draft.
- Graham Hatch—After leading the Witchita State Shockers to the NIT championship and being named Division 1-AAA scholar athlete last year, Hatch seems as likely as anyone to get picked up as a non-draft player in the NBA Development League.
- Stilman White—While just a freshman at UNC, the hype around Stilman White is already near NBA levels. But given his plans to serve an LDS mission, White’s NBA potential is still years away.
- Jabari Parker—If White’s potential is years away, then Parker’s potential is really a long way off, since he is still a junior in high school. But he is a much-talked-about junior who was recently awarded USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year.
So, if Jimmer is the only Mormon in the NBA, perhaps he won’t be alone too long. And given the popularity of basketball, its not hard to see how getting there is the kind of thing that could make him the Mormon of the Year.