Faith on the Field: Earl Smith's Journey from Drugs to NBA Chaplain
Golden State Warriors team chaplain, Earl Smith, is opening up about the team's success and his own personal journey from the streets, to the prisons, to the court.
"It's not so much what they're doing on the court, it's what I see among themselves," Smith said of the players. "It's what I see, how they love each other, how they treat each other, how they're happy to be around each other."
The team broke the record for most consecutive wins, passing the San Antonio Spurs' record of 20 games back in 2012. The team's leader, 27-year-old point guard Steph Curry, is eying records of his own.
Some are already adding his name to the list of NBA legends, like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. But he also has something more important than a jump shot.
"He's an unbelievable competitor who wants to win, but more important than anything ...he has a relationship that far exeeds a 3-point shot, far exeeds accolades that are in the arena. He's a family man; he loves his wife. He's a man that shares love," Smith said.
Smith credits positive, loving relationships as one key element to his ministry on and off the field.
Along with being the chaplain for the Warriors and the San Francisco 49ers, Smith has been ministering to prisoners for over 25 years and he says there's not much difference between a pro-athlete and a prisoner.
"They both have numbers," he explained. "Guys in prison have numbers; athletes have numbers. If you think about it the counties that most populate the prison system are also the counties that most populate professional sports."
"So these guys, there's a very small space between prison and professional sports, but there's a break," he said.
Part of that break, Smith says, comes from a lack of positive influence, something Smith knows first hand from his own childhood.
Smith describes himself as an angry kid who was invloved with a gang and was also a drug dealer. But at the age of 19 all that changed after a bad drug deal.
"They brought someone to my house and that person he brought to my house shot me," he recalled.
He was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening bullet wounds with little chance of recovery. The doctor told Smith's father he wasn't going to make it.
"My dad grabbed the doctor, and says, 'Doctor, you better do what you do best. I'm going to do what I do best.' My dad walked out of the room and I understood later that he went to pray," Smith said.
"All of a sudden I was at peace and a quietness came over me and I heard this voice say, 'You're not going to die. I have something for you to do. You're going to be a chaplain at San Quentin Prison.'"
The doctor couldn't explain the recovery, but Smith knew that Jesus healed him. That healing, however, didn't end when he left the hospital.
Once he became a chaplain at the prison, he ran into the man who shot him.
"I realized going to Bible college and seminary and all these other things didn't mean anything," Smith explained. "I heard about forgiveness, but I still hated him. I started to walk away and started to cry, and said, 'God why did you bring me here to make me think I was okay when in actuality I wasn't?'"
Smith had to pass by the man's cell on his way out and he turned to him and thanked him.
"I looked at him and I said, 'I need to thank you. God used you to get to me.' Those words came from Jesus. They didn't come from me," Smith said.
From drug dealer to chaplain, Smith knows that God is bigger than where you came from and what you've done.
"Whether it's with the Warriors or any person that I meet, I want them to know that there's hope," he said.
"Let's go back to where it starts. Let's talk about what it was that got you to this point," he continued. "Because if we can discuss that, I can show you a Jesus that can get you beyond that."