The Basketball Team Created to Represent God

The Dallas Mavericks were intended to be the first Christian team in the NBA.

At the time, 1980 did not seem like a great year to launch a new professional sports franchise. Interest rates were high. The Iranian hostage crisis dominated national attention. A presidential election loomed. There was a general feeling of pessimism and uncertainty for many Americans.

But Norm Sonju had a vision—inspired by God, perhaps, but also from data and market analysis that showed Dallas had untapped potential as a National Basketball Association (NBA) city.

For two years, Sonju had worked to make his dream a reality. Now, in 1980, when his plans looked like they might be crumbling, he turned to two Bible verses he had learned from his mother as a child: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3), and “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

“The truth of God’s Word made such a difference in my attitude in those hectic days of starting the franchise,” Sonju would write a decade later. “I knew that God was in control even when things looked hopeless.”

Sonju’s Christian faith was more than a source of comfort. It was the central force behind his efforts to bring the NBA to Dallas, fueling his hopes for what the team could become and providing the point of connection with the owner who had the money to animate his vision.

These days, Christian athletes seem to be everywhere in professional sports: kneeling in prayer, pointing to the sky, writing Scripture on their shoes, thanking God from the podium and in front of television cameras.

But the origin of the Dallas Mavericks was not …

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