Prominent stars in the NBA have reached out to a New York City pastor named Carl Lentz for spiritual guidance, which has dubbed him "the patron saint of NBA stars."
According to Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report, Lentz, who works as a pastor at the nondenominational Hillsong Church of New York City, is the most connected person in NBA circles, despite the fact he's not a player, agent, or even a business representative. The Brooklyn resident and married family man of three children has also become a personal friend and pastor to dozens of NBA players.
"There are only two times when I'm talking: balling and preaching," Lentz said.
Zwerling reported that Lentz himself had a basketball background, noting that he used to play ball at North Carolina State in the late 1990s. The pastor provides "messages of encouragement," prayer and networking, which has drawn attention from famous NBA stars such as Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, David Lee, Jeremy Lin, Landry Fields and many others.
"I speak the same language as them. It's a huge advantage for me," Lentz, who also maintains ties with some NFL players, said. "Basketball and life are so parallel; everything on a team dynamic is a life dynamic."
Zwerling noted that in addition to playing basketball three times a week, Lentz also finds time to do his work within both New York City and around the world. Despite his packed schedule and unconventional forms of dress (according to Zwerling, he wears ripped jeans and leather jackets and has a scruffy beard and slicked-back Mohawk), the pastor takes a "down-to-earth, relatable approach" that appears to resonate with NBA stars.
"When I first met him, I was like, 'You're a pastor?'" Fields said. "It was brand new, shocking, but his appearance helps. He's a guy that you can easily relate to, and he's unlike anybody else in terms of the Christian pastoral world. Carl is an unbelievable preacher."
Fields added that since he was new to the Christian faith, having a pastor like Lentz has helped him in his walk with God.
"It helps for people, especially me and other players that are kind of new to the faith," Fields said. "It's an easier transition than just meeting up with some old white guy behind a pulpit. He's just a godsend honestly-somebody that God is using to bridge that gap."
Durant seemed to echo that sentiment about the Hillsong pastor, according to Zwerling.
"He's definitely relatable," Durant said. "He came to me as a friend first, and I can say that he genuinely cares. We just grew from there, and then our relationship as far as being attached to the church."
Durant admitted that he only knew "the basics" of Christianity until Lentz appeared.
"I went to church growing up, but I didn't really pay attention, honestly. I knew the basics," Durant said. "I just wanted to learn more and grow as a man, and he taught me a lot about the Bible and learning from God."
Zwerling reported that Lentz's activities outside the church do not merit any financial gain for either him or Hillsong Church. He just wanted to connect with NBA players and celebrities to the Christian faith.
"What you find with people who are really famous is that often they're isolated," Lentz said. "They have so much money that they can't trust anybody, or anybody that tries to help them always has a hook trying to get something from them."
Unlike other pastors, Lentz had a different approach in ministering to people such as NBA players.
"Our [church's] big advantage is we don't need anything from [them], and we're not pursuing anybody except for who's in front of us," Lentz said. "Most of the [NBA] guys I've met have been super organic."
According to Zwerling, Lentz was also there when Lin suddenly rose to fame playing for the New York Knicks in the 2012 phenomenon known as Linsanity.
"He's pretty remarkable," Lin said of the Hillsong pastor. "He definitely helped me through that time in my life. To receive that much attention, fame and power all overnight is very contrary to the gospel, because it talks about humility and giving God the glory. So while society was talking about how great I was, I had to really fight back and really remember that God gave me the blessing that's here because God wanted me to be here."
Although Zwerling noted that Lentz mainly engaged in pro bono acts of kindness with NBA players, his efforts have left a life-changing, positive impact with them.
"This is the life I pursued and have a passion for-serving others without getting anything in return," Lentz said. "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing."
According to Zwerling, the pastor had some simple yet effective advice for those playing in the NBA.
"If you're going to be famous, use your platform," Lentz said regarding the advice he gives to NBA players. "If you're a Christian, your life should be about helping other people. Becoming a better man makes you a better player."