In 2004, Hoosiers was voted the greatest sports movie of all time. Somewhere, Luke Ridnour was cheering.
Maybe it was because he had grown up longing for the chance to be like Jimmy Chitwood. Maybe it was because he’d lived a Hickory-like experience growing up in smalltown Blaine, Wash. Either way, Ridnour agreed with the critics.
But as much as Ridnour dreamed of being like the sharpshooting Chitwood, it’s a safe bet that just as many kids today are dreaming of being like Ridnour. Even Jimmy Chitwood himself—if he was anything more than a movie character— probably wouldn’t mind a few trips up and down the court in Ridnour’s Nikes. After all, Jimmy Chitwood never made it to the NBA; Ridnour did. And it’s something he gets to do every day as the point guard of the Seattle SuperSonics.
Yet, no matter how many days he spends in the “big-time” lifestyle of the NBA, it is that little bit of Hickory–er, Blaine–coupled with a passionate faith in Christ that makes this Super Sonic (space intended) who he is.
Case in point:
STV’s Jill Ewert: “How much of Blaine, Washington, would you say is still in you?”
Luke Ridnour: “The whole thing.”
(In fact, it took Ridnour less time to think about the answer to that question than it took Strap Purl to dive into a mid-game prayer.)
“That’s where I claim to be from,” Ridnour continued. “For me, being a small-town kid is what it’s all about. The friendships that you build, the people you don’t forget. You remember how you got where you are.”
JE: You’ve been in the NBA with Seattle for four years. To most people, including myself, who look at you from the outside, you’re seen as somewhat of a local just because you’re from Washington. But I hear that Blaine is quite a bit different.
“...when I started reading the Word, everything changed—the way I thought, the way I acted, my attitude—it started to change who I was. It was like being washed by the Word, as they say. ”
LR: It’s a lot different.
JE: What was it like growing up there?
LR: Blaine is like your typical fisherman’s community, a little town. There were 90 kids in my class. The whole town was a couple thousand people. It was great because all the guys I grew up with from kindergarten to my senior year were best friends for those 12 years. It was like a little sense of family. When we won state championships in basketball, there would be huge parades throughout the town.
JE: Let’s talk about your faith. When did you first accept Christ?
LR: Right around 10 years old, but I kind of did it because I had to. The relationship wasn’t serious to me. I grew up in a Christian home. I didn’t really have that relationship with the Lord, but my mom was always asking us to go [to church] and teaching us about Jesus and who He was. But once I got to my senior year in high school, the Lord really started to pull at my heart, and I started to wonder about things and ask questions, and I really started to feel a change. That’s when I got to know Jesus.
JE: What sparked that change?
LR: I’d put so much into the game of basketball—it was my idol. If I played well, I was up. If I played down, I was down. So, everything I accomplished was how I was on the court. I didn’t have a way out. I never had peace, so I started to search that out.
Even into my freshman year in college, I was down because the game wasn’t going the way I wanted. Then our chaplain at (the University of) Oregon started to have Bible studies with me, and I started to read the Word. And really, when I started reading the Word, everything changed—the way I thought, the way I acted, my attitude—it started to change who I was. It was like being washed by the Word, as they say.
JE: I know that your dad was your high school coach. What are some of the things that you learned from him that you still carry with you today?
LR: He treated everyone the same. And as a point guard, you have to treat everyone the same. You can’t treat the last guy on the bench differently than the guy who’s scoring the most points. You have to make everyone feel equally as important. On a team, that can go a long way.
JE: How does your faith help you do that?
|“If we lose a game, I come home and see that there’s something a lot better at home than what just happened.”|
LR: A lot of that is just reading how Jesus came to serve others. You have to humble yourself before others and think of others before yourself. So, it’s just making sure that you don’t put yourself on a higher pedestal than other people. For me, that’s something that I’ve tried to be conscious of. No one is better than the other, and I just try to make everyone feel together. That’s how we make a team that’s good.
JE: And now you’re a point guard at the highest level—you’re in the NBA. Tell me, what was your first impression of the League? How did you react to it?
LR: I was excited just because I’d dreamed of being here. When I got here I had high expectations as to what it would be like, but it was like starting over and being a freshman in high school again. I had to learn and grow and get better and better. And each year for me has gotten better and better. Now, I’m just excited about the future and what God’s plans are.
JE: Did you have to change your walk with God in order to adapt to the life of a pro athlete?
LR: I don’t know that I had to change my walk with the Lord. I tried to stay consistent and just keep growing. The one thing that is obviously different is that I have money. I’m always praying against the greed and pride that Satan tries to creep in with and just to still know that it’s God’s money.
JE: How do you combat the greed and pride?
LR: Really, it’s just praying against them, and then also praying to see what God wants to do with it. It’s a blessing not just for me, but for other people. We get to share.
But then with that, it’s also the people around you. Like my wife— she’s been awesome for me. She keeps me in line.
JE: Talking about your wife, Kate, whom you married in 2005—how did getting married change your life?
Born: Feb. 13, 1981
Weight: 167 lbs.
College: University of Oregon
Favorite Sports Movie?
“It’s gotta be Hoosiers. It’s a classic.”
Favorite thing about the city of Seattle? “That there are lakes in the city.”
Actor he’d choose to play him in the movie of his life:
“Owen Wilson. He’s my favorite actor.”
LR: It really calmed me down. She’s just been awesome for me. She’s built my faith. I’ve only been married a year and a half, but every day we seem to get closer and closer. And other things that seemed important to me just aren’t as important anymore. If we lose a game, I come home and see that there’s something a lot better at home than what just happened.
JE: Specifically regarding your basketball career, how has she helped you?
LR: She’s always there for me. When I get mad about something, she’s always there saying what I did well. And she’s an encourager, which I think, as the wife of a pro athlete, that’s what we need. You need somebody who’s got your back all the time.
JE: Now, I found this quote by a sportswriter who wrote about you before you left Oregon. He said that you would be “swallowed up by the demons of the NBA” and referenced your faith as a weakness. What do you think your success at this level proves about Christian athletes in general?
LR: People have no idea what they’re talking about. I just laugh when I hear stuff like that. Even at the NBA level, I’ve had people come at me saying, “You’re weak,” but I play hard. I’m like, “If you know who I was playing for, you’d know that I play even harder.”
It’s a spiritual battle. Just like it says in the Word, when people come at you, you’re blessed because they see the Lord in you. Satan’s gonna try anything he can, but in the end, the Lord always prevails.
JE: The FCA Camp theme for 2007 is “Game Ready.” What does that phrase mean to you both physically and spiritually?
LR: Is there a verse with it?
JE: Yeah, Ephesians 6:11.
LR: Oh, putting the full armor on? Man, that’s an awesome verse. It’s like I was saying, you should never get too comfortable in what you’re doing. Satan’s always trying to come at you. When you put on that full armor of God, you’re protected. You’re game– ready all the time.
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com