Jimmer and Whitney Fredette open up about life as Mormon couple in NBA
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Editor's note: This post by Rebbie Groesbeck and Danny Rasmussen originally appeared on the blog, Normons. It has been reprinted here with permission.
In 2011, Jimmer Fredette found himself in the spotlight (no pun intended) during his senior year as he led the BYU basketball team to the Sweet 16. Along the way, he picked up every major award that college basketball has to offer including National Player of the Year, the Wooden Award, the Naismith Award, the Adolph Rupp Trophy, and the Oscar Robertson trophy. Jimmer was taken 10th overall in the 2011 NBA draft and found himself playing for the Sacramento Kings. He met his wife Whitney (a former BYU cheerleader) while at BYU and the couple was married in 2011 in the LDS Temple near where they now reside in Denver, CO. They were gracious enough to sit down with us to discuss what life is like for a young, Mormon couple in the NBA.
Danny: So let’s get right to it. How often to you use the line “You just got Jimmered?” It’s okay if it’s 10x a day.
Jimmer: Haha honestly I don’t think I’ve ever used it once. It’s funny how people have used that and it’s turned into its own phrase since the time when I was at BYU. It’s awesome when people say it and I hear it all the time, but I don’t feel right saying it.
Danny: I’m actually glad to hear that. Jimmer, you come from a part member family, right? Why did you choose Mormonism?
Jimmer: Yeah, my mom actually isn’t a member of the Church but my dad is–he converted when he was 18. My mom still hasn’t become a member but she loves the lifestyle that we live and has always supported us and attended sacrament meeting with us.
I grew up going to church at a young age, but I wasn’t baptized until I was ten instead of getting baptized at eight like most kids. My dad just didn’t force it upon me to get baptized so at eight years old I didn’t really think about it. As I got to about ten years old, I thought “All my friends at church are baptized—maybe I should, too.” I decided to get baptized and I’ve been a faithful member ever since.
Danny: Interesting. So your Dad is a convert, correct? Do you mind telling us a little about your Dad’s experience joining the church?
Jimmer: When my Dad was younger, his parents were Christian and they went to church. Then one day the missionaries showed up at the door, one of which was my BYU teammate Steven Rodgers’ dad who ended up baptizing both my uncle and my dad. He said it was undeniable. He was searching for something to be a part of, and when the Elders challenged him to read the Book of Mormon and he read through it, he felt that undeniable testimony and decided that was the route he wanted to go.
As I’ve grown older my testimony has grown a lot and a lot of it really has to do with my dad. He actually helped get the Church going in Glens Falls back in the day. They used to meet in a local cornfield, because they didn’t even have a building. He’s been such a faithful member and helped so many people around Glens Falls. Everybody in town knows who my dad is — that he’s a good guy, that he’s willing to help, and that he’s Mormon. He’s been a good example to me. That’s really where my testimony started in just seeing how spiritual and what a good guy he is. I wanted to grow up and be like that.
Danny: Whitney, can you tell us what it was like being married to Jimmer in the LDS Temple? How has the gospel blessed your marriage?
Whitney: Our sealing was incredible. We were sealed in the Denver Temple by (BYU) President Samuelson who we both knew really well. It was really a unique experience. It was the first time either of us had been in a sealing but it was an incredible feeling. It was really special to be sealed by someone who knew both of us so well and to be there with so many loved ones.
Even today we still feel so blessed to be married to each other and we are especially grateful that this marriage is something that will last throughout eternity. It’s incredible to me to think about that reality. It’s such an incredible blessing to know that because we were married in the temple that we will be able to be together as a family—with each other and with our children and everyone that we love. That knowledge brings us closer. Especially in Sacramento, since we’re kind of all that each other has we’ve grown closer as a result.
Danny: So why did you choose to be married in the Temple instead of a venue where all your family could attend?
Jimmer: Well, it could’ve been easier to get everybody there had we gotten married somewhere else. It’s a tough situation, especially when my mom and her side of the family weren’t able to attend the sealing. But we explained to them that it was really important to us to get married in the temple and we believe when we do we receive great promises and we’ll be able to be with each other and with our family for eternity and not just ‘til death do us part.
So it was extremely important to us to have that and have those covenants to be able to go through the temple together to receive those ordinances. My mom especially was very thoughtful and thought it was the right thing to do for us. She was very supportive.
Danny: Are you guys worried at all that your kids will be really, really white?
Whitney: Haha we get that question all the time because both of us are so, so pale. Definitely, our kids are going to be white. It doesn’t help that I’m about as fair as fair gets—blonde hair, blue eyes. Jimmer at least has dark hair, even if he’s still white as can be. Hopefully they’ll be able to go out in the sun.
Danny: How has being in the NBA changed your relationship with God?
Jimmer: I definitely have grown closer to the Lord since I’ve been in the NBA. I had an experience when I was a rookie. I was going through a hard time and I wasn’t playing a lot and Whitney was still in college so I had to live in Sacramento by myself while we were engaged. It was a rough time and I was going through some stuff and I didn’t have anyone to come home to and talk about it.
But before I went out to Sacramento, I met with Elder M. Russell Ballard (of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and it was a pretty incredible experience to sit down with him and have him share some counsel. There was one specific day when I was playing in December. I had had a tough week and I felt like I needed to talk to someone about it other than Whitney, who I had already talked to about it over and over again. I needed someone with a different perspective. All of a sudden I had this feeling that I should call Elder Ballard, so I told myself I’d call him that night. As soon as I got out of practice, I saw a couple texts from Whitney and a new voicemail so I go and listen to the voicemail and it’s from Elder Ballard. It was an incredible experience that he had the same impression to call me the same day I felt impressed to call him. Thankfully I was able to talk to him and he gave me some great advice that helped me keep moving forward. Before we hung up, he challenged me to read the Book of Mormon from that day and finish it before the season was over and I was able to do that and it completely changed my mindset and my attitude and everything changed for me for the better. It was a really special experience for me.
Rebbie: That’s amazing. Can you give me Elder Ballard’s number ? So what’s it like being a Mormon in the NBA? What’s it like in the locker room?
Jimmer: As weird as it sounds, we’re normal like everyone else is. We have a good time, we laugh and joke around, even though sometimes we don’t have a ton in common. And actually, there are some guys you have more in common with than you think in that locker room.
That said, there are definitely guys who live different standards than I choose to live. Some guys are partying and drinking, which I don’t want to be a part of. The good thing I have going for me now is that I told them early that I wasn’t going to go out and do any of that stuff. We have a lot of fun together, we laugh and joke in the locker room but when it’s time for them to go out, I just head back to my room and they respect that, which is great. At first, people might think you’re weird, questioning why you don’t go out—and I have nothing against their decision to go out at all—but my teammates have come to respect my lifestyle. When they’re going out, they already know that my answer to the invitation will be no.
Danny: Whitney, we’ve all seen Basketball Wives (some of us more than we’d like to admit). How do you handle being both a cheerleader to your man and glam powerhouse?
Whitney: I’ve had a few friends tell me I should go on the show but I remind everyone that I’m far too boring for that show! Life in the NBA is definitely a different life. I always tell Jimmer that I’m lucky that I don’t really care what other people think about me—if they think I’m weird or if there’s something about me that they don’t like, it doesn’t really matter to me. I live the standards I live and dress the way I dress. I dress the way that I want to and people respect me for it. It’s a similar thing for me among the girls as it is for Jimmer in the locker room.
As far as cheerleading for my man goes, it’s really hard on me because I get very defensive of him. I don’t like when people say negative things about him and of course in our wonderful world of social media it’s everywhere. So I see a lot of it. I try to avoid it but it’s hard. At this point to be honest, I try not to read anything. If I see his name somewhere I don’t go anywhere near it. I think a lot of times the worst thing to do is to get upset and respond to something because of course the next day it’s all over the news: “Jimmer’s wife went on a twitter rampage.” Haha so I really try ignore it and act like it didn’t happen.
Rebbie: So obviously there’s a ton of pressure in the NBA to play great basketball. Do you feel any added pressure being a Mormon in the NBA? Does it make it easier? Does it stress you out?
Jimmer: You’re definitely under a microscope when you’re playing professional sports or doing anything high profile and you realize that. You realize people are watching your moves and watching to see if you’ll make a mistake. But the thing is, I’m not doing all this to put on a show. I’m doing it because I truly believe in the church and believe in the gospel and this is how I want to live my life. So it doesn’t really bother me that people see what I’m doing because I know that in my heart that’s what I want to be doing. So that’s the most important thing to me.
It’s not that I’m perfect or anything, obviously I make tons of mistakes. But I try as best I can to be the best I can be and be a good role model. I do it because I want to do it and not because I’m supposed to.
Danny: Jimmer you’ve been criticized by some for not serving a full-time mission. How did you go about making that decision and do you have any regrets about your choice?
Jimmer: When I was growing up, to be honest with you, I didn’t think about serving a mission very often. My dad didn’t serve a mission and neither did my brother. Not as many people back east go on missions. I was the only member of the Church in my high school so I just didn’t see many people go on missions. It wasn’t really something I thought about. In Utah and other places you grow up thinking, “Hey, I want to go on a mission” but it never really occurred to me. But then as I got older—around 16 or 17 years old—my dad asked me if I would consider going on mission. It was the first time that someone had ever asked me the question and it kind of caught me off guard. I thought about it but I didn’t really know what to think about it. I prayed about it and I never got a strong feeling after praying about it several times that I was supposed to go on a mission. Since there was never a strong feeling, I decided that I wasn’t going to do one.
I know that some people probably don’t like that and it’s something that I’ve been criticized before about and, in fairness, I can understand where people are coming from. It was a tough decision for me but thankfully I can see now how I’ve been able to serve the Lord in other ways. I can see how I’ve been able to reach a lot of people that I otherwise may not have been able to as a full-time missionary.
Danny: So there happens to be another prominent LDS college basketball player this year, Jabari Parker, who finds himself in a similar situation you were in a few years ago—National Player of the Year candidate, playing for a top program, and more than likely preparing for the NBA draft. What kind of advice would you give Brother Parker as he’s looking to enter this next stage of his life?
Jimmer: I’d say to really enjoy his college years–or maybe year–but really enjoy it. Enjoy the friendships and college atmosphere he’s involved in right now. It’s definitely different between college and the NBA. You’ll never feel that brotherhood that you did in college again. It’s still a great world in the NBA but it’s a different world. He’s gonna have to continue to work hard, obviously he’s gonna do some great things this year and in his future career.
I’m excited for him, and I hope he’s extremely successful, but I’d tell him to keep being himself and never change who he is. That’s a big piece of advice, when you get into the NBA just be yourself and don’t change for anybody. Just do what you do out there.
Danny: So what is next for the Fredettes? I’m going to the Lakers game tonight so I’ll go put in a good word with (Lakers’ head coach Mike) D’Antoni. We’ve got brother (Mark) Madsen assistant coaching, I’m sure he’d love to have another Mormon in the locker room.
Whitney: Haha. You know, we kind of go with the flow. We honestly don’t know what’s next. When the season is over we’ll go back to Denver, which is where we live in the off-season. We have a few trips planned—we’re going to Canada and Hawaii this summer. But we pretty much do whatever the NBA tells us to do.
Danny: Well, it’s 75 and sunny in Southern California. Just sayin.
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