In the run-up to the 2004 NBA draft, Dwight Howard, who would be selected first overall by the Orlando Magic, spoke of his intent to alter the NBA’s culture and reputation by way of personal evangelism. He imagined a league run “by the standards of God.” But within three years, it appeared the culture of the NBA had affected Howard more than the other way around. The superstar athlete fathered a child out of wedlock with Magic dance team member Royce Reed.
Fast-forward to today, and the NBA may well be realizing some of Howard’s vision—though in a perhaps less brazen manner. There was a time not so long ago that the NBA’s best player, Kobe Bryant, was entangled in litigation over allegations of rape. And its scoring leader, Allen Iverson, had an arrest for marijuana possession and such horrific alcohol and gambling addictions as to be banned from casinos in Detroit and Atlantic City. Now, the league’s scoring leader three years running is Kevin Durant, who credits daily Bible reading with helping him mature as a person. And the NBA’s biggest story of a year ago centered on Jeremy Lin, a humble, outspoken Christian who inspired millions.
This season’s sensation could prove to be Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. The fourth-year player is putting up some of the best numbers in the league and on Feb. 27 turned in one of the most dominant single-game shooting performances in NBA history. Curry hit on 11 of 13 3-point attempts en route to scoring 54 points. And he did it all with Bible verses penned across his sneakers. The son of former NBA player Dell Curry has made a habit of donning Scripture on his footwear since his days at Davidson College, where he led the underdog Wildcats to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 2008.
It was during those college days that Curry began to realize the responsibility of being a public person of faith: “I think my relationship with Christ has helped me to stay focused and give glory to heaven and reach people through the talent He’s given me. … I try to stay humble and use every opportunity to deflect attention off of me to Him.” His opportunities to deflect attention are rising fast.
With the baseball season set to begin March 31, here are five players who may go from relative unknowns to emerging stars over the next six months:
Mike Minor, Atlanta
Minor struggled over his first two-plus seasons in the Big Leagues. But the hard-throwing lefty showed signs of dominance over the second half of 2012, going 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in September.
Trevor Bauer, Cleveland
Moved to the Indians this past December in a three-team deal, Bauer will most likely start the year in the minor leagues but shouldn’t stay there for long. With an early call-up, the right-handed pitcher could parlay his dizzying array of pitches into a Rookie of the Year bid.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
After a call-up from the minors in late June last year, Rizzo shined at the plate with 15 home runs and 48 RBI in just three months. The first baseman will get his first shot at a full Big League season this year.
Wil Myers, Tampa Bay
The slugging outfielder has yet to debut in the Major Leagues, but was Minor League Player of the Year last season with a .314 batting average, 37 home runs, and 109 RBI.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
The right-hander pitched brilliantly in 10 starts last season, compiling 70 strikeouts and a 2.73 ERA. His numbers may dip slightly over a full season, but the scary truth is he’s still getting better.