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'The gospel is for everybody,' says former BYU basketball great Jeff Chatman

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

That extra spiritual witness came a short time later when the missionaries came back for another visit. Toolson, a teammate recently returned from his mission in Chile, accompanied them. They were reading together in Ether, Chapter 12, of the Book of Mormon when Chatman read verse 27, which teaches that with humility and faith in the Lord, people can overcome their weaknesses. The words of the verse touched Chatman’s heart. As the group continued reading, he offered a silent prayer.

“Lord, if you will allow me to know if this church is true, I will join it,” Chatman said. “At that moment the Spirit overwhelmed me so much that tears began to flow and I had to cover my face. I had never cried happy tears before. I cried uncontrollably. Everyone was watching me, wondering what was going on. I finally composed myself and said, ‘You can stop now, I know it’s true and I want to be baptized.’”

Another miracle

Chatman’s baptism date was scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 6, 1987, following a three-game road trip to Utah State, Washington State and UCLA. The Cougars won all three games to improve to 4-0.

Chatman invited his teammates, coaches and friends to the service, but word leaked out. The chapel was filled to capacity.

True to his word, Johnson, the kind equipment manager, gave a short talk on baptism. Benson, a religion instructor, spoke about the gift of the Holy Ghost. Chatman was then baptized by Cruz and Coach Andersen confirmed him a member of the church.

The experience was perfect except for one small detail. Chatman still hadn’t told his parents.

He went home for Christmas break and still didn’t tell them. He continued to keep the secret into January when he granted an interview to a sportswriter from USA Today. The reporter asked Chatman about his time at BYU as a non-member and the senior enthusiastically informed him he was recently baptized. Chatman felt safe in revealing this because he knew his parents didn’t subscribe to USA Today, and figured they would never read the article.

He was wrong. His cousin saw the article and showed it to Chatman’s parents.

“The article came out and I got a call from my mother. ‘Did you get baptized Mormon and not tell us?’” Chatman quoted his mother. “They were very angry and my mother hung up on me. We were really close and she had never done that before. I thought, ‘Well, looks like I’m going the rest of my life without my family because I know the gospel is true and I’m going to stick with it.’”

The very next night, his mother called back with a question.

“Are you happy?” she asked.

“Yes mom, I’ve never been happier in my life,” Chatman said.

“Then we are happy for you,” she said.

Chatman said his mother’s change of heart was a special miracle. She died less than two years later.

“The Lord had softened her heart and that was the end of it,” Chatman said. “They still thought I was brainwashed and crazy, but as they saw all the fruits of me getting baptized, they have been great about it.”

This December marks 25 years since Chatman’s baptism.

Spiritual victory

Chatman graduated from BYU with a degree in speech communication and finished out his career by earning honorable mention all-American honors. He is seventh on the school’s career scoring list and ranks among the top 10 in blocks, field goals, field-goal percentage and games started. He has since become an unofficial ambassador for African-American recruits at BYU.

Chatman went undrafted by the NBA, but passed up tryouts with the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks to play a season in Switzerland. The following season he played in Madrid, Spain, but it was a different brand of basketball and wasn’t as fun, Chatman said. So he returned to the United States and moved on with life.

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