June/July 2009 STV Hot Seat Jia Perkins Susie Magill Chicago Sky
The spotlight is shining on the STV Hot Seat again, and this time we're grilling the WNBA's Jia Perkins. Can she handle it? You bet.
STV's Susie Magill: You just returned from playing basketball in Israel during the off-season. Can you tell me about that experience?
Jia Perkins — #11
|Born: Feb. 23, 1982|
Hometown: Granbury, Texas
College: Texas Tech
Years Pro: 5
• Holds the WNBA record for consecutive free throws made (39).
• Chicago Sky's leading scorer in 2008 (17.0 ppg).
• Fourth in WNBA with 64 steals last season.
• Named the 2009 Israeli League and Finals MVP.
Perkins on the Sky's chapel, led by FCA's Sue Crawford: "It's always good to hear the Word, no matter where you are or what you are doing. It's a nice time to fellowship and really let God be acknowledged in all you do, even if it is just 10 minutes before you go on the court. As Scripture says, iron sharpens iron, so having those fellow believers lifting you up is encouraging.
"And Sue is great. She's always asking me how she can pray for me and recommending books to read. She is very encouraging and caring about our walks with God."
Jia Perkins: It was great. I felt like I was living out the Bible every day. I visited the temple in Jerusalem and saw where Jesus was crucified and saw the tomb. Then, we went to the Sea of Galilee and saw where He walked on water and where He fed the 5,000. I put my feet in the water that Jesus walked on. It was an amazing experience. I really felt a presence there.
SM: Did it change how you read the Bible?
JP: Yeah. I lived in Ramat HaSharon, and it was just crazy for me to drive around the town and see direction signs for Bethlehem and Nazareth and then to read the Bible and see those towns mentioned in Scripture.
SM: What lessons did God teach you while you were overseas?
JP: I think it gave me a chance to spend time alone with Him because I wasn't as busy over there as I am back home. We had practice at 5 p.m. and pretty much the whole day and night to ourselves. It was mostly about spending quality time with God and building my relationship with Him. So, since last year, He has really shown me the importance of having that personal time with Him.
SM: You were raised in a Christian home, but was there a specific time when your faith became personal to you?
JP: It was recent, actually. I had always believed God and had accepted His Son, and I got baptized when I was in high school. But, in college, I strayed and did my own thing. Then, when my dad passed away two years ago, I really decided to change my lifestyle — to really show that I love God.
My dad was everything to me. We did everything together. But God really filled that void for me. That was when I started getting closer to Him and having that relationship. I still miss my dad and spending time with him, but God really became a dad to me.
SM: Your dad played professional football for the New York Giants. Did he use his experience to help you in your career?
JP: My dad never really pushed me to do anything I didn't want to do. I think that really helped, because you don't want anybody pressuring you to be like them. But He always believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. He always told me, "You know, you could be one of the best players in the WNBA. You could average 20 points a game if you wanted to." That was so encouraging, and I started to believe it for myself.
SM: I read that the first sport you played growing up was actually soccer.
JP: Man, yeah, I think I was about 5 when I started playing soccer. For me, it was a gateway sport. It really helped my basketball skills and footwork.
SM: How did you go from soccer to basketball?
JP: I don't really know how I got into basketball. I think it was just because my brother was playing out in the yard and I decided to play with him. I guess I could shoot and dribble a little bit.
Perkins was named the 2009 Israeli League MVP. These are a some snapshots of her season overseas.
SM: When did you realize you had a gift for it?
JP: Probably in junior high because the boys were trying to get me on their teams. That boosted my confidence.
SM: Do you have any encouraging words for female athletes who aspire to play at the professional level?
JP: I would just tell them to keep God first in everything and let Him order your steps. Always surround yourself with people who encourage you because you don't want negativity to weigh you down. You need to have someone who is going to lift you up and motivate you to be better.
SM: You were drafted by the Charlotte Sting in 2004 and played there two seasons before being traded to the Sky. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make in the transition from the Sting to the Sky?
JP: In Charlotte, I didn't get much playing time. Coming to Chicago and being an impact player was an adjustment. I had to really get into the gym and work on my game so I could be that player, especially these past seasons when I have been starting. I've had to learn to be an all-around player as opposed to coming off the bench and getting about 2-3 minutes.
SM: The WNBA has been around for more than 12 years, but it still seems to be establishing a presence. Do you think women's professional basketball is changing for the better?
JP: Well, look where we are now. Women's basketball is not just fundamentally sound; we have girls who are coming in who can dunk the ball. We also show a lot of teamwork in our game, and that can be very entertaining to watch. Basketball isn't just about one-on-one competition; it's about a team.
SM: What do you feel is your purpose as a WNBA athlete?
JP: Well, I think God has a purpose, obviously. I wouldn't be here otherwise. I'm not sure specifically what it is, but I want to be His witness and a light to draw people closer to Him.
CHAPEL IN THE SKY
Being 5-foot-4 and a former cheerleader, FCA's Sue Crawford didn't fit the stereotype of a typical WNBA chaplain. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't ignore the signs, even if the scenario seemed ridiculous.
"I'm the only woman on staff in my region," said Crawford, an FCA area representative in the Lake Michigan Region, "so when the Chicago Sky developed as an expansion team, I was contacted by the WNBA's chaplain coordinator, Alice Simpson, and was asked to serve as their chaplain. We talked about it, and I initially said no. I had never played basketball. What could I have in common with these girls?"
As the season's start date closed in, however, God began to open Crawford's heart to the idea of leading the team chapels, even if, for her, it was only going to be a temporary position.
"I basically did it more as if to say, 'OK, Alice, I'll help you out until somebody else comes along,'" Crawford said. "I was truly just going to fill in the gap for a few months."
Now three years later, Crawford is still serving as the team chaplain and loving her role. Quite surprising for someone who initially felt so unqualified.
"It has been a huge blessing," said Crawford, who now serves alongside co-chaplain Gina Barons. "This is something I never thought I could do. But the Lord has really accomplished great things through it."
The chapel services have given Crawford the chance to spiritually uplift and challenge the team. Time spent in the Word and in prayer is a welcome change for the players whose everyday environments can be filled with uncertainty and mistrust.
"It can be difficult for the girls to build relationships and put themselves out there because people can easily take advantage of them and their high-profile status," Crawford said. "And with them getting traded from team to team, it can be hard for them to know whom to trust."
Being there from the team's inception, Crawford has provided a constant, dependable presence, which has aided in the players' willingness to be open and ask for spiritual support. Barriers have been broken down, and there have been ample opportunities to speak directly into players' lives.
This year, Crawford plans to meet with several players, including Jia Perkins and Armintie Price, one-on-one in order to disciple them individually and find ways to better serve the team as a whole.
"Eventually, my goal is to have the players leading the chapel," Crawford said. "They will relate more to their peers and have the opportunity to speak on a level they are accustomed to. And even though I feel I might not be the perfect person to be doing chapel services for them, the Lord has used my differences to build relationships outside what they would normally have been. They realize that I am here to serve them. They find comfort in knowing that I am committed to them — to praying for and encouraging them. That supersedes any apprehension or doubt."
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images; Jia Perkins; Alain Schieber.