SALT LAKE CITY — In a recent post on ESPN’s The Undefeated, Indiana Pacers point guard Darren Collison announced his retirement from basketball to focus on “my family and my faith.”
Collison’s letter is sparse on details. He didn’t say exactly what focusing on family and his Jehovah's Witnesses faith will look like. He did offer a hint in writing about why he loves putting his faith into action.
“I receive so much joy from volunteering to help others and participate in a worldwide ministry,” he wrote on The Undefeated. “The joy I feel is unmatched.”
His decision echoes Argentinian soccer star Carlos Roa. In 1999, the goalkeeper led Mallorca to a third-place finish in Spain’s La Liga. Goal.com reports that Manchester United, one of the most storied teams in European soccer, was prepared to offer him $10 million to join. But Roa, a devout Seventh-day Adventist, said no and retired from soccer.
Seventh-day Adventists believe the Sabbath occurs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. That means they’re only supposed to focus on glorifying God and resting during that time. Roa, who was 29 when he retired, cited Seventh-day Adventist beliefs about the Sabbath as the main reason he stepped down in an interview with Adventist.org.
Seventh-day Adventists also believe in the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ, and it was widely reported that Roa believed Christ would return around the new millennium. That obviously didn’t happen, and Roa eventually returned to Mallorca, where he could never recapture his former stature on the soccer pitch.
Another athlete who gave up sports for religious convictions is former BYU offensive lineman Eli Herring. He was selected in the sixth round of the 1995 NFL draft despite telling all 30 teams he was uninterested. The Oakland Raiders offered the 6-foot-8, 330-pound tackle $1.5 million, but even when the Raiders sent representatives to try to talk him into playing, he said no. His priority, then and now, was his commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I did get an Oakland Raiders T-shirt out it," he told the Deseret News in 2015.
Other examples of athletes choosing off-field/court conviction over professional sports include Sandy Koufax, who refused to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series for the Dodgers because it fell on Yom Kippur; Adam LaRoche, who in March 2016 announced his unexpected retirement from baseball’s Chicago White Sox because the team’s administration told him he shouldn’t bring his son into the clubhouse as much as he was accustomed to, leaving $13 million on the table; and John Moffitt, a former offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, who decided to retire midseason in 2013 for health reasons, forfeiting a million dollars.
But a more recent example — and perhaps the most similar to Collison — is Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore. On Feb. 5, she wrote an essay in The Players’ Tribune announcing she’d be skipping the 2019 WNBA season. Not for a more lucrative deal overseas, or for health reasons, or to retire, but “to say yes to my family and faith family like I never have before.”
The sentiment is very similar to Collison’s. So what has the former WNBA MVP and six-time All-Star done with her free time so far?
Moore, according to a New York Times report released Sunday, is helping Missouri inmate Jonathan Irons, who is serving 50 years for burglary and assault with a deadly weapon. Moore believes he is innocent. And regarding her basketball future, she carefully chose the word “uncertain.”
Collison, who will be 32 next season, most recently played two years with the Pacers. He also spent time in Sacramento, Los Angeles (Clippers), Dallas, Indiana (again) and New Orleans. The then-Hornets drafted him 21st overall in the 2009 NBA draft out of UCLA.
Though undersized at 6-foot even, Collison was considered the 10th-best point guard available by ESPN’s Chad Ford. During his time in the NBA, he was largely as expected: never an All-Star, never a league MVP, but for 10 seasons he was consistent.
Collison averaged 12.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and five assists per game in his 10 years of NBA service. In his final NBA season, he wasn’t too far off those numbers: 11.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and six assists per game. Few expected he’d stop there.
Especially with the large payouts of the young NBA free agency period. His numbers are similar to former Utah Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio (12.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game last season) and exceeded former Portland Trail Blazer Seth Curry’s (7.9 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game last season).3 comments on this story
Rubio just signed a three-year, $51 million contract with the Phoenix Suns, and Curry just inked with the Dallas Mavericks for $32 million over four years. Granted, Rubio and Curry are both three years younger than Collison, but it’s still likely he chose to forego millions.
Unlike Moore, Collison seems certain in his retirement. His mind could always change — as Roa exemplified — but for now, he seems confident. The coming months will reveal if he follows a path similar to Moore’s or carves out one of his own.