By Bob Smietana
When Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward broke his leg five minutes into the NBA season, the team’s coaches turned to little-known rookie Semi Ojeleye for help.
Assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry called Ojeleye to his side while trainers tended to Hayward, according to the Boston Globe.
Would he lead the team in prayer? asked Shrewsberry.
Sure, said Ojeleye, who is known for his deep faith. Ojeleye prayed for Hayward’s recovery and that God would comfort him, according to the Globe—and that the team could feel a sense of calm.
“Here’s a guy who’s a second-round pick at the end of our bench as a rookie, and he had the attention of the players and got them all together in prayer,” Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Boston Globe. “It was an impressive moment.”
Ojeleye, son of Nigerian immigrants, has made quite an impression on teammates and team officials alike. They’ve noticed his calm presence and his habit of reading the Bible for hours on the team plane.
Then there’s his Twitter feed, filled with references to faith and Bible verses like this one: “Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NLT).
When you ask God for His will to be done, you have to be willing to accept any outcome that He sees fit. So I'm going to give Him thanks🙏🏿
— Semi Ojeleye (@semi) March 18, 2017
He learned the lessons of faith first from his parents. His mom, Joy, named him Jesusemilore.
“It means Jesus’ Gift to Me,” she told the Boston Herald.
Her youngest son was born not long after the family had been reunited in the United States in 1994. Ojeleye’s dad, Ernest, a doctor, had left the family in their home country with hopes of getting a place in a medical residency program in America. He thought they’d be separated for a few months.
Instead, they spent four years apart. A pastor from a church in Kansas took in Ernest for several years while he studied for the exams needed in order to gain a place in a residency program.
Ojeleye’s mom saw his birth—after the long separation—as a gift from God.
“With everything we’ve been through as a family, with the four years I haven’t been able to see my husband, everything we’ve been through, this is a very unique gift from God,” she told the Herald.
“From the very first day I found out I was pregnant with Semi ’til now, his life has been a tremendous gift to me, to his father, to his siblings, to so many other people.”
The rookie has played a key role for the injury-plagued Celtics. The team lost its other major all-star, guard Kyrie Irving, late in the season to knee surgery.
Instead of bowing out early in the playoffs, the Celtics are one win away from the Eastern Conference championship.
“It’s a blessing,” Ojeleye said after his team beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, according to Sports Spectrum.
Since that first game, Ojeyele has continued to lead the team in a prayer before every game. He credits his faith with helping him keep an even keel as a professional athlete.
“Try as you might, some things might not go your way, and you can’t control everything,” Ojeleye told the Boston Globe.
“But knowing that God has a plan for however things turn out for any circumstance gives me a peace of mind.”
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BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.