Basketball Does Not Define Me - Semi Ojeleye

Regular-season games usually include seeing family and friends at the games, visiting college friends who are in the cities we visit, and interacting with fans in different cities. This season we have none of that. Now it’s just travel, play, repeat. I’ve never played without fans. It’s a unique experience playing in a “bubble.” The game itself has not changed, but once it’s over, I realize no one is there. 

As we finished the regular season in the “bubble” last year, it was almost as if we forgot about everything else that goes on. Now that we’re back playing in the usual arenas, with COVID-19 still being a very real thing, I’m just grateful that we’re able to play. It’s amazing to be back! We’re all just hoping we can keep it going for the entirety of the season, and eventually get back to normal.

Last year, when it seemed as if everything had been paused, God was revealing to me the importance of people. I can forget about that in the grind of everyday life. The basic principle of loving people is even more critical when everything that we deem as “important” is taken away from us. Basketball is obviously what I love to do, and it is my job as well, but it doesn’t define me. Sometimes I forget that. When it was taken away, I found myself still trying to find ways to impact others. I came to realize that, just because I wasn’t on television or interacting with people face to face, I could still call family and friends. And because of social media, I still had a platform for influence.

When life slowed down for me, people were brought to my mind who I hadn’t thought about in a while. It was fun to get in touch with friends from high school or college. I also found a platform to connect with people in my communities, where many joined weekly Zoom meetings just to ask me questions about faith, life and basketball. It was a more personal space for me to interact with people around me. 

I also used Community, Instagram and Twitch to interact with kids and fans. I tried to use every platform I could to impact people who may be listening. Staying intentional about impacting others may be harder with the busyness of the season, and without interviews scheduled or fans present at games, but I’ll still use the platforms I’ve been given to be a light. These areas are important. 

Just as important is the way I can impact my teammates. Basketball is a roller coaster. My own playing time has been up and down, and that’s hard to deal with. But when I look around and see my teammates feeling great when they do well on the court, and then get down on themselves when they don’t, I know that’s when trouble starts. I try to encourage my teammates to get outside of themselves. One game or a stretch of games doesn’t define us. Instead, it may open up conversations of eternal value — conversations about Jesus Christ. 

We now have basketball back, but this game still does not define me. It never will.

— Semi Ojeleye, Boston Celtics forward

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