Orlando Magic power forward Jonathan Isaac spoke to The Daily Wire on Wednesday, anticipating the launch of his unique signature shoe line, called Judah 1, which features Bible verses.
Isaac, who has stood out in the NBA for refusing to back down from his conservative values, says this new line of sneakers is meant to allow others, like him, to express themselves, and even wear their values.
“Throughout his career, Jonathan Isaac has been injured, misunderstood, and criticized. Knowing God is always with him has given him the strength to live bold. The JUDAH 1 Triumph reminds you that no matter what they say, no matter the score, victory is yours through Christ,” Isaac’s brand’s website states of the unapologetically Christian kicks.
The following is a transcript of the conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity:
Daily Wire: Jonathan, your new shoes, the Judah 1s, which are set to be released on November 16th, they’re the first ever signature shoe to feature a Bible verse on the exterior of them. What was your inspiration for these?
Jonathan Isaac: Well, it started back in 2020 – back in the NBA bubble. I got injured, and at the time I was signed to Nike. After I got injured, I wasn’t able to re-sign with them, and I went to my pastor and I told him about my sneaker situation. ‘Hey, you know, I’m not signed with a company anymore.’ And he said, you should create your own sneaker, and make it around how you want it.
I thought he was insane, but I started to go down the road of what would it look like to create a shoe, and then the idea blossomed into, why just create a sneaker for me, why not see what it would look like to create a sneaker that we could have for everybody, to represent millions of people and the values they align with across our country and across the world?
It was big for me to have a Bible verse on there. My Christian faith is the center stone of my life. And my middle name is Judah, so Judah’s on there and the shoe is lion inspired with the lion’s mane on the backside and the herringbone on the bottom. I just tried my best to create something that spoke to me aesthetically and had different components that spoke to me in my life.
Most people see the “Judah 1” as an outlandish endeavor.. shoot, when we first started, so did I 🤷🏾♂️
I was afraid that delivering a sneaker that represented our values without compromising style or performance was too tall a task.. ‼️
But here we are!! ☺️👊🏾 The first basketball… pic.twitter.com/ErnMkhMtB5
— Jonathan Judah Isaac (@JJudahIsaac) November 14, 2023
DW: You have different bible verses on different variations of this shoe. Can you tell us about how you chose some of those verses and what they mean to you?
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JI: Yeah, absolutely. It was just about who I am and what Bible verses went with where I’m at in my point of life. The orange pair has Proverbs 28:1, and that one says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues them, but the righteous are as bold as lions.” And that’s a verse that I’ve tried my best to live by. As I’ve encountered different moments in my life where I had to stand – going back to the bubble and the whole BLM, COVID – where I didn’t get vaccinated – I was taking a stand and saying, you know what, I think that this is important and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and do it boldly, trusting that God is with me and God is for me. And, you know, it’s paid off. And I hope that other people who get a chance to wear the shoe are embodying what the shoe represents as well.
JI: There’s the Lion of Judah, there’s Triumph – and that verse says, “Persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.” And for me, that one is such a big one. It’s going to be the first one that drops. It just speaks to my run-in with injuries – I’ve been hit with a few injuries and had to miss quite a bit of time, but I’ve continued to keep the faith and not waver, and trust that God is with me and for me. Even though I’ve been struck down, I haven’t been destroyed. He hasn’t left me, and I can still keep kicking.
DW: Thinking of this cultural moment – is there something about this specific moment, do you think, that makes this the right time for a statement shoe such as this?
JI: Oh, absolutely. And not even just the shoe specifically, but even the company UNITUS (Isaac’s sports apparel brand launched this year). I really do believe that we’re ushering into a time where our society, and companies, for that matter, are moving farther and farther away from Godly values and principles and also Constitutional values and principles. And so when it came to UNITUS, I wanted to create something that could be a voice and a beacon of light and hope for lovers of God and lovers of country. And I think that those two sentiments are something that are waning, and face increased hostility in today’s world. And so, United specifically, I think it’s the right time to take a stand in this way, and the shoes are just a branch of that. I wanted to see my values represented on the court. If somebody else isn’t going to celebrate them, then we can celebrate them ourselves.
UNITUS is just the beginning, and this is the first ever signature NBA sneaker with a visible Bible verse on the outside. This is big in terms of a historical moment, and people can be a part of that history.
DW: Speaking of UNITUS, it’s suggested on the website that it’s sort of an alternative to sports apparel brands that have gone all-in on divisive campaigns. I’m specifically thinking of Nike, here. Was this kind of a reaction, in part, to, you know, Nike and some of the political stances the corporation has taken?
JI: I would say not entirely a reaction. And when I say that, I mean, it’s not like, you know, they did something or companies did something and we said, “Hey, we need to do this.” It’s not about what anybody else is doing, it’s not about going against any other company or anything like that. It’s more so on the offensive of what would it look like to give people the freedom to wear their values, and the values that they agree with. Companies are free to do what they want to do, it’s America at the end of the day, but so are we. And we can celebrate the values that we want to see in our marketplace.
But it is a reality that companies are moving in a way that I believe does not coincide with the majority of people, or where we are as a country. There have been divisive campaigns and campaigns that cater to a small percentage of our population that aren’t the sentiment of what most people are feeling. So, I do think creating that alternative and having that for people is vital, it’s essential. And I think the biggest thing is that, if there aren’t alternatives, if the world continues to move in the direction that it’s going in, there will be a time where they say, “Hey, if you don’t believe these set of things, you can’t shop here, you can’t eat here, you can’t do this, you can’t go here.” And if there aren’t alternatives for people to turn to, then the only answer is going to be to conform.
DW: Now, we’ve sort of touched on this, but you’ve stood out in the league for a while now. Back in 2020, you were the only player to stand for the national anthem when everyone else took a knee. You were the only Orlando Magic player to refuse the COVID vaccine, and one of the few players in the league to speak about that openly. And now you have these shoes coming out with Bible verses on them. How does it feel to kind of be, sometimes, the odd man out? Does that ever weigh on you?
JI: You know, honestly, it is pretty daunting. I would say from the start of the whole standing-in-the-bubble thing, I’ve definitely developed some callouses. So I’m not too concerned about it at this point, but definitely early on, you know, having your character maligned and being mischaracterized for your positions was something that was really tough for me. I think especially with the whole Rolling Stone article that happened, for not taking the vaccine, was something that shocked me. I was like, oh my gosh, this is a reality when people say “fake news” and “propaganda,” and opinions are being pushed and everything like that. I didn’t really understand it until it happened to me.
It’s definitely something that has weighed on me in the past, but I’ve kind of got to the point where I’m like, I’m fully okay with being authentically me, and I just want other people to have that confidence and that pride to say, I can be authentically me, as well, I can stand for my values. No matter who disagrees, we can agree to disagree. And if I lead with love and grace, I can stand boldly for what I believe in.
DW: Your Christian faith is obviously very important to you. Tell us what that means to you, and how it guides you in your life.
JI: Well, I think the baseline is that I believe God is with me. I believe that He died for my sins and I have everlasting life in Him. It gives me the freedom and, I would say, just the ability to trust him. And it’s hard at times, but I continue to just fall back on that. I have amazing people in my life. My pastor has been somebody that has spoken extensively in my life. He was a beacon for the name of UNITUS and the shoes and everything that’s happening. My wife, my family, my church family – they keep me grounded and keep me on the right path. It’s just been something that has led my life and I, you know, I fully believe it and just continue to trust God.
DW: Lastly, Jonathan, there’s been some chatter about you being floated as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. An amazing accomplishment to be in that conversation, again. Congratulations. How does that feel?
JI: I love it. You know, defense comes pretty instinctually to me, and so I just try my best to go out there and help my team win. To have a little bit of recognition with an early season is great. I continue to look forward to growing and helping the team win games.
To sign up for notifications for shoes from the Judah 1 collection, visit the UNITUS website here. The first pair of the line drops November 16, at 8 p.m.
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