General managers of pro basketball teams would be wise to keep Elijah Bryant’s number handy on their digital Rolodexes.
The Latter-day Saint hoopster is becoming synonymous with prestigious basketball championships.
In 2020, Bryant helped lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Israeli League title. Last year, he was rostered on the Milwaukee Bucks squad that claimed the 2021 National Basketball Association championship. And this year, he was a key contributor for Anadolu Efes during that Turkish team’s successful run to the EuroLeague crown.
The NBA/EuroLeague back-to-back titles are especially significant for the former Brigham Young University star. They are widely considered to be global basketball’s top two professional competitions.
But even as Bryant is establishing his “brand” as a title-winner on the court, his growing international fanbase is learning more and more of his deep religious convictions. The athletic, 6-foot-5-inch guard frequently uses Twitter and other social media to share favorite scripture passages and quotes from Latter-day Saint leaders.
Here’s an affirming quote from Elder Jorge T. Becerra, a General Authority Seventy, that Bryant tweeted on June 17: “In each ward and branch we need everyone — those who may be strong and those who are perhaps struggling. All are necessary.”
Days earlier, he tweeted a familiar Book of Mormon verse: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
While some high-profile athletes might shy away from revealing their spiritual side, Bryant harbors no such inhibitions. He believes his athletic abilities are a gift from God — and he’s unapologetic in utilizing any platform linked to those abilities to share the restored gospel and bring people to Christ.
“I read the scriptures and the [general conference] talks almost every day — so why not share with my followers what I’m learning and what brings me happiness,” he told the Church News.
Such tweets or Instagram messages can make him a target for criticism. Some followers tell him to “focus on basketball.”
“But my ultimate goal in life,” he responds, “is to return to my Savior. To me, basketball is irrelevant in comparison to my faith and my family.”
Even Bryant’s Twitter avatar is an image of the basketball player wearing a jersey emblazoned with the Church’s symbol. “Because that’s the ‘jersey’ I’m wearing at all times, no matter where or how I’m playing.”
Frequently posting scriptures and quotes from Church leaders also helps Bryant remain accountable to himself to study the inspired words of ancient and latter-day leaders on a daily basis. And it is fun being a missionary.
“I need to share [gospel-themed] things with people following me to help remind them to read their scriptures everyday,” he said. “I have my good days and bad days. Sometimes I miss a day [of gospel study]. But [social media] holds me accountable and allows people to see what I’m about.
“I hope it sets an example to show kids and others that you can have a strong faith and be a good athlete.”
Bryant has played in several countries over the course of his professional basketball career. He knows not all of his fans and followers are English-speakers. “But maybe they will Google Translate what I tweet. That might be the only encounter they have with the gospel. … But maybe one day they will have a chance to meet the missionaries. I don’t want to leave anything to chance. I want to share the gospel as much as possible.”
Two basketball seasons. Two major titles.
Last year, the Church News caught up with Bryant shortly after he won an NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks. Soon after, he found himself out of the NBA. It was a tough time. Tough decisions had to be made. But he trusted in his skills, trusted in the Lord, drew upon the support of his wife, Jenelle, and soon found himself wearing the jersey of one of Europe’s top teams, Anadolu Efes of Turkey.
A successful 2021-2022 season and run through the high-profile EuroLeague championship would follow.
“It just goes to show you that when you sacrifice for something that you really believe in — and you put your heart, your faith and hard work into it — that great things can be accomplished.”
The past year, he added, “has definitely been a testimony builder. … It’s been humbling to see the success and accolades that I’ve received, but I’m definitely ready to accomplish more.”
Playing alongside elite players such as the Buck’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has sharpened both Bryant’s skills and his appreciation for his success. He knows many first-rate professional athletes play entire careers without ever winning a championship.
Meanwhile, he added, “Having the Lord on my side helps me always make the right decisions.”
Learning from other religious traditions
Basketball continues to offer Bryant a unique, front-row view of many of the world’s major religions.
The Georgia native grew up in the Bible Belt before eventually playing college ball at the Church-sponsored university in Provo, Utah. Professionally, he has played in the Jewish nation-state of Israel and in Turkey, a Muslim nation.
As a Latter-day Saint, “I’ve tried to do my best to set a good example in each of these communities — while also learning from them.”
The Jewish weekly observance of Shabbat, for example, helps Bryant better appreciate and understand his own Sabbath Day traditions and observances. He is also inspired by the devotion of many of his Muslim friends during their sacred observance of Ramadan.
Bryant is spending much of the summer in Utah connecting with friends and operating his basketball camp. He loves spending the off-season doing “dad stuff” with his little boy, Blu. Soon, it’s back to Istanbul where he is contracted to play another year for Anadolu Efes.
“The journey continues, right?” he said. “But I know I’ll be somewhere serving the Lord playing basketball. That is the ultimate blessing.”