Sports have always been a major part of my life. I grew up watching and playing basketball. I was obsessed with The Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, also known as ‘showtime’ basketball and Magic Johnson was my favorite player. I remember I use to get so upset whenever the Lakers lost a game, especially to the Boston Celtics! I never told anyone, except my older brother, but deep down inside, I wanted to be a professional basketball player, starting forward for the LA Lakers, Randy Choi!
One time my older brother innocently commented to me, ‘come on Randy, get serious, you will never play pro ball’. My older brother’s comments did not contain any malice, rather realistic, tough love. In the 1980s there was no Jeremy Lin. The only Asians we saw near the court during games were usually icing the players down, most likely the team physician. More than twenty years later, my brother’s comments have proven to be wise prophecy. The odds of me playing professional basketball are slim to none, but I believe something more tragic occurred within me at that early age and it was the belief that I could not do what others could do based on nothing more than a lack of imagination. Today we know that an Asian American can make it in the NBA and compete at a high level! Is Jeremy Lin the best player in the league? Not by a long shot, but he regularly competes with the best basketball players in the world and he is an Asian American!
Over the years my enthusiasm for sports has surprisingly expanded into more uncommon sports, like surfing. In surfing, we see more Asians in the professional league, eg, certain Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. But, growing up in Southern California as a Korean American, living literally 20 minutes from the beach, I don’t remember meeting one person who surfed in my community, not one! Now, as an adult, I am so grateful that some of my Caucasian friends in Long Beach taught me how to surf. I have developed a deep passion for surfing that literally consumes me. It is an integral part of my daily spiritual well being. I have also paid it forward and taught many young Asian American brothers at my church how to surf and we have developed quite the local surf club with members increasing weekly. For the most part, growing up I believed that Korean Americans do not surf! But, if we allow our imagination to expand beyond our everyday observations and limitations, reality is, many Korean Americans love to surf!
Overall, the point I am trying to make is that young Asian Americans are often limited in their thinking based on various stereotypes, ie, ‘model minority’ or ‘forever foreigner’. We are pushed towards a narrow path of vocational possibilities, usually in the sciences. Now, the reasons are valid, which are safety and security for our families. Further, wider society does not expect too many Jeremy Lin’s to emerge and so we are not encouraged from wider society. However, I propose the question, why not? Who is dictating these limitations and expectations? I believe we need to encourage young Asian Americans to pursue their passions, including sports! Who knows, who the next Jeremy Lin or Manny Pacquiao maybe? I think too many limitations and imposed expectations are placed on young Asian Americans to their detriment.
Finally, beyond becoming a professional athlete, which the odds are one in a million,. I sincerely believe that sports are a tremendous teacher of life lessons. I think participating in team sports or individual sports provide many invaluable life lessons, such as preparation, discipline, self-control, patience, establishing goals and competition. Sometimes, I think Christians frown upon the word competition, but I disagree with this belief. I think competition is invaluable. It pushes us to stretch ourselves in ways we did not believe were possible, it challenges us to set impossible goals and it ignites within us a passion and determination to overcome all obstacles in obtaining our goals. Yes, more than a few times, we may fail in obtaining these goals, such as being a professional athlete. However, this is not a tragedy, but an opportunity for parents, mentors, coaches and pastors to instill possibly the most invaluable lesson in young hearts and minds, which is to simply, ‘try your best’! In trying our best, we have already accomplished all that is needed! All this, while having a good time! What a blessing sports can be to the church!
Some may disagree with this view. I have heard a famous professional athlete, who is Christian once say, ‘God loves winners!’ I believe his statement has an implicit connotation that, possibly, ‘God does not love losers’. I would have to disagree. Rather, I agree with one of my seminary professors who once said, regarding sports and spirituality, ‘God loves, what is important to us’. To be honest, I am an average basketball player and mediocre surfer. However, every time I play, I try my best and make sure I have fun and I know my God is pleased, simply because I am pleased. What a blessing our God has given us through sports, so let the church encourage all, especially our young Asian Americans, just do it!
Randy Choi is a 2nd generation Korean American. He was born in Seoul, South Korea and immigrated with his family to the United States when he was one year old. He is an ordained Baptist pastor and a state certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. He serves at The Branch (English Ministry of Podowon Baptist Church in Carson, California) as the lead pastor for the English-speaking college and young adult congregation. Based in Long Beach, California, Randy speaks annually at various youth retreats and conferences geared toward second and third generation Korean Americans. Randy is also a contributing writer for G2G’s Living Between curriculum. He is an alumnus of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, where he obtained his M.Div. and M.A. degrees in Crosscultural Studies.