New York Knicks star Josh Hart offered an impromptu Bible lesson on Wednesday when asked about how he takes on the mental and physical challenge of playing all 48 minutes of an NBA playoff game.

Hart said he focused on a Bible verse during the action, drawing strength from the promises made to God’s people.

“The whole game, I was reciting Isaiah 40:29 — For the weak, he renews strength,” Hart said.

If you’re a sports fan, you’re probably used to athletes and coaches referencing the Bible from time to time in an interview or on social media.

What you might not realize is that such shoutouts to scripture appeared in sports media as early as the late 19th century, when today’s major leagues were taking shape.

For example, Amos Alonzo Stagg, a star pitcher for Yale University who became a prominent football coach, spoke in the 1880s about turning to Ecclesiastes 9:10 during games.

“He had one game where he said he’d pray that verse while pitching. That’s a very early incident of an athlete applying a Bible verse to sports,” said Paul Putz, author of a forthcoming book titled “The Spirit of the Game: American Christianity and Big-Time Sports.”

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow embraces his mother, Pam, during a pregame ceremony for graduating seniors on the Florida football team prior to a game against Florida State in Gainesville, Fla., Nov. 28, 2009. Tebow regularly put Bible verses on his eye black during his football career. | Phil Sandlin

Around 50 years later, runner Gil Dodds, then one of the best athletes in the U.S., spoke regularly about Philippians 4:13, which reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“He wanted to make sure he could connect sports with witnessing for Christ,” Putz said, noting that Dodds would include the verse with his autograph.

But until about 60 years ago, athletes who referenced the Bible and their faith were the exception, not the rule. That began to change with the rise of sports ministries like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the emergence of psychological research on how to find peace in the midst of competition.

These trends “helped athletes connect their day-to-day experiences with Christian scripture in dynamic, embodied ways,” said Putz, who is assistant director of the Faith & Sports Institute at Baylor University’s theological seminary.

In the past, sports ministries, as well as individual athletes and coaches, faced criticism from some religion scholars for taking passages out of context. They still do, but those complaints don’t get nearly as much attention as the Bible quotes.

Today, references to the Bible pop up not just in interviews, but in tweets and Instagram posts about injuries, turning pro and entering the transfer portal.

Christian athletes and their advisers “have built their own canon. Certain verses pop up again and again that seem to be powerful,” Putz said.

Josh Hart, New York Knicks

Hart has been referencing the Bible regularly in Instagram posts during the Knicks’ playoff run.

In April, he shared a different verse from Isaiah 40 after his team beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their first-round series.

“‘But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.’ Isaiah 40:31,” he wrote.

Two days later, he spotlighted Proverbs 11:2. It reads, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

Then, on Wednesday, the same day he talked about Isaiah 40:29 helping him stay strong during a game, he posted on Instagram about 2 Corinthians 12:9.

It reads, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Dawn Staley, University of South Carolina

In post-game interviews, Dawn Staley, head coach of the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team, is more likely to talk about her overall relationship with God than a specific Bible verse.

But on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, she regularly shares pictures of her pre-game devotionals, which are built around passages on love, teamwork and other religious values.

On April 7, the day South Carolina beat the University of Iowa in the NCAA championship game, Staley posted on X about the team shootaround and “pregame meal,” her nickname for the devotional.

That morning’s talk centered on Philippians 1:9, which reads, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.”

Other verses featured in devotionals during the Gamecocks’ championship run included 1 Peter 3:8, Jeremiah 31:3 and 1 Corinthians 16:14.

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Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy talks regularly about how his relationship with God helps him succeed on the field.

Before the Super Bowl in February, he spoke specifically about reading Psalm 23, noting that it brings him a sense of peace when things get crazy.

“It also talks about how God prepares a table before me, and even in the presence of my enemies, so even though all the craziness is going on for me, I know God’s with me and He’s right here in this moment,” Purdy said, as the Deseret News previously reported.

Psalm 23 reads, in part, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Purdy has referenced other Bible verses throughout his career, including Jeremiah 29:11 when he declared for the NFL draft in January 2022.

On X, his cover photo is a screenshot of Colossians 3:23, which reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

That verse inspired the phrase “Audience of one,” which often comes up when athletes talk about their faith, Putz said.

“The idea is that you’re competing for God and that you can forget the crowd,” he said. “You’re not trying to impress them. You’re just playing to make God happy.”

Win or lose, Brock Purdy will give thanks

Sydney McLaughlin, U.S. track and field

Track and field superstar Sydney McLaughlin talks about her faith regularly in interviews and on social media.

In July 2022, moments after she broke her own world record for the 400-meter hurdles event, she described how a Bible verse prepared her to take on the challenge.

“These past few days getting ready for this race, Hebrews 4:16 has been on my mind — coming boldly to his throne to receive mercy and grace. And I think (God) really gave me the strength to do it today, so all the glory goes to God,” she said, as the Deseret News previously reported.

McLaughlin shared the verse again last month on Instagram in a post about leaning on faith during difficult times.

She highlighted Proverbs 3:5-6 in a July 2023 post about her track career.

It reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic

It’s common for Christian athletes to write Bible verses on their shoes or cleats. But Jonathan Isaac is thought to be the first to have Bible verses incorporated into the design of his signature shoe.

Each “JUDAH 1″ colorway comes with a different Bible verse printed on the heel.

In a November interview with the Deseret News, Isaac reflected on his relationship with 2 Corinthians 4:9, which is part of the blue, “triumph” edition of the JUDAH 1.

He said the verse, which reads “Persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed,” helped him as he spent more than two seasons on the sidelines working his way back from injury.

“I truly feel that God has not left me. I’m still kicking, still moving,” he said.