Late this summer, Charlotte Hornets rookie Miles Bridges asked his 238K followers on Instagram — particularly those living in his new city — for a favor: Could they recommend places to worship here?
This is still a layup for Charlotte, right? We’ve long been a city that’s had pride in its deep and diverse faith community. You know the stat — at some point, someone said we had more churches per capita than any city in the United States. People mention that even now.
So how’d we do with Miles Bridges?
“It was good,” he told me this week after a practice before Wednesday’s season opener. “I got a lot of responses — about 25 churches.” Bridges says he hasn’t had time just yet to check them out, for obvious reasons. But he will, and there’s a good chance he’ll tell his fans some about the places he goes. He’s unafraid to talk about his faith — “My relationship with God has always been the No. 1 thing in my life,” he told me — both in interviews and social media.
That’s a good thing. Bridges is showing signs of becoming the next big star in Charlotte on the basketball court, which means he could become something more off it, if he wants. People who know him here and from Michigan State, where he starred for two years, tell me he’s genuine and has a deep spirituality that will resonate with folks in his new city.
Will there be more than that? When I asked if there are athletes he’ll model himself after off the court, he thought about it a moment and said: “LeBron.”
It’s too early to know what form that might take for Bridges. Maybe he’ll be the LeBron James who’s active in helping the communities where he lives and works. (“I want to look for opportunities to bring kids closer to God,” Bridges says.) Or maybe he’ll be the LeBron who talks about ways those communities — and our country — can be better for everyone. Bridges says he knows that athletes have a platform. Many, like the Panthers’ Torrey Smith in Charlotte, have used it thoughtfully.
That platform also will make some people uncomfortable — but that’s nothing new. Sports fans have long been a bit hypocritical when it comes to athletes. We want them to be multi-dimensional, but not really. We like when they’re personable and thoughtful — more than just canned cliches — but when they start thinking too much, people start getting squirmy.
But if you like a player asking about what church he should attend in Charlotte — and you should — seems like it should be OK if that player asks how his city can be a place that lives up to Christ’s ideals.
Will Miles Bridges be that kind of athlete in Charlotte? Maybe, or maybe not. He’s sorting out a lot of things right now. Like what kind of basketball player he can become. And what kind of life he’ll have in his new city. It’s a lot like any young person starting a new chapter in a new place. “Some people don’t realize it, but athletes are regular people, too,” Bridges says. Multi-dimensional. They care about things. They talk about it on social media. They go to church. Maybe you’ll see him at yours.