Like millions of other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU guard Spencer Johnson was tuned in to the Sunday morning session of general conference in early April.  

President Russell M. Nelson was delivering a message about seeking peace and harmony and how to deal with personal conflicts. 

Then President Nelson started talking about a basketball game that he had seen recently. That caught Johnson’s attention so he sat up and moved closer to the screen. 

But he never could have predicted what would happen next. 

“In that game, the first half was a seesaw battle, back and forth. Then, during the last five seconds of the first half, a guard on one team made a beautiful 3-point shot,” President Nelson said. “With only one second left, his teammate stole the inbound pass and made another basket at the buzzer! So that team went into the locker room four points ahead with a palpable surge of momentum. They were able to carry that momentum into the second half and win the game.”

Johnson immediately recognized that game and that specific sequence. He was the one that stole that pass and scored the layup at the buzzer.

At that point of President Nelson’s message, Johnson jumped out of the seat on his couch and was pumping his fist and yelling. 

“Let’s go! That was me! No way!’”

Talk about one shining moment.

Those back-to-back plays happened on Jan. 6 in the Cougars’ West Coast Conference opener against Pacific at the Marriott Center. 

As President Nelson pointed out, the final three seconds of the first half changed the complexion of the game.

BYU trailed the Tigers 31-30 with three seconds left on the clock when Alex Barcello buried a 3-pointer — which pushed him over the 1,000-point plateau for his Cougar career — and then Johnson stole the inbounds pass and dropped in a layup at the halftime buzzer. BYU went on to win, 73-51 with a dominating second half. 

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Though none of the participants were identified by name in President Nelson’s talk, Johnson wasn’t the only one that recognized the end of that first half.

As soon as President Nelson referenced that thrilling few seconds of that BYU game, Johnson’s phone “blew up,” he said.

“Everyone was texting me and calling me,” he added. “I ended up posting a video about it and it got like 50,000 views. It was wild. Pretty cool. That was amazing.”

A couple of weeks after general conference, Johnson traveled to Oregon to visit his parents. There, several people brought it up and were still talking about how President Nelson spoke about Johnson’s heroics.

“They were pretty excited,” Johnson said.

In his talk, President Nelson used that sequence involving Johnson and Barcello as an example of momentum. He related that to building “spiritual momentum.”

“So I ask, what can ignite spiritual momentum? We have seen examples of both positive and negative momentum,” President Nelson said. “We know followers of Jesus Christ who became converted and grew in their faith. But we also know of once-committed believers who fell away. Momentum can swing either way.”

For Johnson, it was surreal to realize that President Nelson used one of his basketball plays to teach a spiritual principle. 

“He was talking about momentum. He’s a doctor, he’s a Ph.D,” Johnson said. “Think about all of the things he could have used to refer to momentum. And he picked that. It’s pretty crazy.”

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While Barcello isn’t a Latter-day Saint, he appreciated President Nelson referencing something he and his teammates had done. 

“Alex thought it was pretty cool, too,” Johnson said.

The momentum-shifting sequence that Barcello and Johnson executed against Pacific doesn’t occur often. Neither does having a prophet discuss some plays in a basketball game during general conference.

“That was amazing,” Johnson said. “That never happens.”

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