Retired WNBA star Charlotte Smith on finding Jesus amid struggles with sexual sin, idolatry

WNBA player Charlotte Smith
WNBA player Charlotte Smith | Courtesy I Am Second

Ex-WNBA player Charlotte Smith said that starting at as young as 7 years old, she spent countless hours shooting hoops in her parent’s backyard. When she wasn’t on the court, she would spend more time in her youth pondering Jesus. 

Being the daughter of two devout Christians, one of whom was a pastor, laid the foundations of Christianity to be engraved on Smith’s heart and mind long before she ever laid hands on a basketball.

“It's hard to even calculate the amount of hours that I put into my craft. Because I know that almost every day, I was going to the playground or to my grandmother's house in the backyard or somewhere in our backyard to play basketball,” Smith, who played over eight seasons in the WNBA and now serves as women's basketball coach at Elon University in North Carolina, recalled in an interview with The Christian Post.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

“When I think of my mom and dad, I think of their faithfulness and their commitment to their personal relationships with God and to their ministries. My dad used to always say, ‘I don't study the Bible to preach. I study the Bible to live.’ They both were great examples for us, and they laid the foundation for our faith.”  

Born into a close-knit family in Shelby, North Carolina, Smith describes her family as an overall happy unit during her youth. But for many years, the family also struggled with poverty, which they kept secret. 

Smith, whose testimony was recently featured in an "I Am Second" film, said she vividly remembers waiting in long government food assistance lines for groceries each week to provide for her family. 

As she entered early adolescence, Smith said she often dreamed of escaping poverty and becoming a professional athlete just like her uncle, former NBA player David O'Neil Thompson, who played with the Denver Nuggets and the Seattle Supersonics before being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.

Even though she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior as a teenager, Smith said her life's motto quickly changed from “living for God” to “ball is life” as her dreams of becoming a professional athlete became the main focus, and Jesus took a backseat.

“Basketball was, first and foremost, a way out of poverty. I remember when my uncle would come home for the summers, and I saw his really cool RV that he had. I mean, this is before RVs were super popular. And just seeing all the things he had accumulated through wealth,” Smith recalled. 

“For me, I didn't know what that was going to look like because, really, there were no professional leagues for women in the States. I grew up as a little girl thinking that, ‘Well, I'll just be like my uncle; we'll play in the NBA,’” she continued. 

“Basketball was also just a way out of the things that were surrounding us in our neighborhood, not that it was super chaotic. But I mean, there were a lot of drugs, alcohol and a lot of lifestyles that I didn't want to be around for the rest of my life in that neighborhood.” 

Smith later joined the basketball team at Shelby High School in North Carolina. From 1991-1995, she played college basketball for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

During her high school and college years, Smith said she put greater distance between herself and God as she began to engage in "sexual sin." 

“I think a lot of the sexual temptation stems from not understanding your identity, your value and your worth. I think we all, at some point, want to be validated, want to feel loved, want to feel valued, want to be treasured and honored. And for me, I think a lot of that came from feeling like I had to, in relationships, include the sexual aspect of it in order for the relationship to be validated. And that's where I struggled,” Smith said. 

Smith attained success on the court. In 1995, ESPN named her the National Player of the Year. During her collegiate career, she scored 2,094 points and 1,200 rebounds. She was also the ACC Rookie of the Year in 1992. 

After college, she played professional basketball in Italy, where she was named the Most Valuable Player of the Italian All-Star Game of the 1995-1996 season. 

While living away from her family in Italy, Smith began to feel alone on most occasions and desired someone or something to fill a void in her that not even basketball victories could satisfy. 

“Being overseas was a season of isolation. When you think about being overseas in the 1990s, there was no social media. Long-distance phone calls were very costly at that time. You didn't spend much time on the telephone,” Smith explained. 

During this time, she said she spent a lot of time "just diving into the Word of God and drawing closer to Him in that season of isolation."

“I think what best describes my walk of faith is the shedding of layers. The good thing is that God knows our heart, even though our actions don't always align with what we deem to be the Christian lifestyle,” she said.  

Smith said she learned more about Jesus' loving and forgiving nature the more she read Scripture, telling CP, "I had to just surrender to Him. I surrendered to allow Him to perfect me in my walk with Him." 

“In my walk, I would fail, fall and then get back up. It was a process of shedding. It's like an onion when you peel back the layers. It wasn’t like I gave my life to Christ, and I did everything perfectly. No, I still struggled with sexual sin,” Smith added. 

“My walk with God was a walk that involved saying, ‘Lord, I want to surrender everything to allow for you to help me.’ Because we cannot do it without His help. That's why we have to be real and transparent about our faith so that other people will say yes to Jesus and allow Him to perfect their walks.” 

In 1996, Smith began playing for the Colorado Xplosion in the American Basketball League. While in the ABL, she played for Colorado and also the San Jose Lasers, earning All-Star honors.
Smith was selected as the 33rd pick of the 1999 WNBA draft by the Charlotte Sting. She played six seasons with them before playing with the Washington Mystics in 2005 and the Indiana Fever in 2006.

During that time, Smith continued to rekindle her relationship with God.

Smith also found success on the court after her playing days. In 2011, she was hired as the head women's basketball coach at Elon University and has earned her spot as the winningest coach in the program's history, accumulating a record of 195-163 in 11 seasons. 

“God is my hope, my joy, my strength, my light, the love of my life. God means everything to me. There's not a day that goes by where I'm not in communion and fellowship with God. And as a basketball coach, I try to model what it means to be a Christian. I try to model what it means to be a woman that values and understands her identity,” Smith said.  

“I also speak truths to my team by telling them ‘Basketball is part of what you do. It's not life.’ You know, there's a saying that ‘ball is life.’ It is not life. It is a part of life. And your true identity is solidified in knowing God.” 

“My advice to anyone struggling with idolatry of a sport or sexual sin is to just ask God to show you where your heart is because there's a saying in Scripture that says ‘where your heart is, that is where your treasure lies’ (Matthew 6:21). Ask Him to teach you to treasure what matters to Him the most, and He will reveal your heart to you.” 

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles