The colorful frames of a DC Comic strip have long told the "Rock-em/Sock-em" adventures of Superman, Batman, the Green Lantern and other superheroes. It's not where you'd expect to find an LDS Church reference.
Yet there — in last fall's annual Sports Illustrated college basketball preview — was an entire DC Comic storyboard dedicated to the heroics of the-Mormon-cum-basketball-superstar Jimmer Fredette and his older brother/rapper T.J. In the animated panel, a mustachioed hipster introduces the heroically-sketched siblings as "an LDS rapper-baller duo, the Brothers Fredette! T.J. on the mic, Jimmer on the Rock."
A comic strip crowning Jimmer Fredette a "Hoops Hero" in the United State's most storied sports magazine only turned the crank on what has become "Jimmermania." Thanks to his prolific scoring and ridiculous assortment of jump shots and dribble-drive moves, Jimmer Fredette has become one of the most talked about (and Tweeted) athletes of the new year. Sports magazines, 24-hour sports networks and even the nation's august newspapers have all requested an audience with the young man from the blue-collar town of Glens Falls, N.Y.
Yes, reporters want to talk basketball. But often the interviews drift to the Church. Journalists ask about Jimmer's conversion to the Church and his thoughts on his faith. Stories often segue to the Church-owned Brigham Young University and its honor code and LDS culture.
"It's great that people are curious," he told the Church News. "They want to know what I'm like as a person."
An unassuming 21-year-old who is quick to praise both teammates and opponents, Jimmer didn't ask to be a hardwood ambassador for the Church — but that's what he's become. To wit: on Jan. 26, Jimmer scored 43 points and helped lead the Cougars to a historic win against the nation's fourth-ranked team, San Diego State University. The game was broadcast on national television and Jimmermania reached a crescendo. Pro ball players utilized their Twitter accounts to lavish praise on the BYU guard (leaving Jimmer a bit embarrassed) while national sports television programs led off with Jimmer highlights. The next morning Jimmer did a live phone interview with ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross. Mr. Buccigross began by talking hoops — but soon shifted the interview to the Church and Fredette's decision to be baptized as a child. (Jimmer's father, Al Fredette, joined the Church as a teenager. See Church News, Jan. 19, 2011.)
"I was 10-years-old when I was baptized into the Mormon Church," he said. "I just decided it was the right thing for me to do. I went to Church growing up. ... I just really liked it; I liked the people that were involved."
He continued by saying he didn't know a lot about religion at the time of his conversion because of his young age, "but as I grew older, I was able to gain more of a testimony of our Church. It's been a great thing. I really love the Church."
Jimmer grew up in upstate New York where there were few Mormons, so his Church membership has long been a subject of interest to those around him. His background has helped prepare him for the LDS-related questions that have often come his way over the past year. "I've been getting questions [about the Church] my whole life."
In a USA Today story published the day before the San Diego State game, he acknowledged that he does represent the Church through his play on the basketball court. He credits his family for teaching him the value of being a good example. "People knew the Fredette family was Mormon and they knew that they had good kids."
As expected, the Jan. 31 issue of Sports Illustrated dedicated it's cover to an advance of the upcoming Super Bowl, but editors still made space in the corner for the ubiquitous new term "Jimmermania" to plug its Fredette feature story inside. Jimmer — and the Church — have become frequent subjects for SI writers. In an earlier story, senior writer Tim Layden spoke to Jimmer about growing up Mormon in upstate New York.
"[It's] not like Utah, where there's a church about every three blocks," he said. "We used to drive around and pick up people who didn't have transportation to church."
National coverage of Jimmer's exploits sometimes extends to BYU and its adherence to LDS tenets. A writer for a Jan. 26 story in the Wall Street Journal noted, "BYU students live by a different culture from the rowdiest college sports fans. The university's honor code requires them to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee, use clean language and 'live a chaste and virtuous life.' "
School media representatives do their best to allow Jimmer time to focus on his primary job: help the Cougars win basketball games. But the national media are showing little sign of Jimmer-fatigue. On the day after BYU's Feb. 2 win at Wyoming, Jimmer was scheduled for an interview with the New York Times.
Despite the, well, mania, that's surrounded Jimmer in recent months, the ball player's testimony has kept him grounded. The attention, he said, "doesn't really matter much in the end... it's more important for people to know you are a good person."
Besides, his family would be the first to let him know if he began taking himself too seriously. "They would knock me down if I got too big-headed."