February 18, 2007
God calling his shots now
Former Central High and UMKC star Michael Watson gives up
pro basketball career to pursue a life in the ministry.
By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
The Kansas City Star
When Michael Watson bumps into a friend from his old life,
the conversation tends to go something like this.
Friend: So what are you doing back?
Watson: I retired from basketball and came home.
Friend: OK, so you retired from basketball
WHAT?! YOU RETIRED FROM BASKETBALL?! WHY?
Watson: Im going to be a minister.
Then, an awkward silence usually follows. Nobody knows what
to make of Watsons abrupt retirement from pro basketball
at the age of 26. It just doesnt make a lot of sense:
The guy who wouldnt stop shooting at Central High School
and then at UMKC decided to put the ball away for good? No
way. Doesnt seem possible.
See, Watson wasnt just a normal baller. He was a nasty
competitor, the guy who wanted to guard Kareem Rush growing
up. Watson would do anything to beat you, anything to catch
But, spend some time with Watson, and youll see that
he is still very much on fire. Watson listened to a voice in
his soul, and it told him to come back to Kansas City. He was
needed here, back in the heart of the inner city where he came
Sure enough, there he was on Wednesday, coaching the Northeast
High School JV basketball team against Rockhurst. The Vikings
trailed big at the half, and Watson lit into his team in the
Theres no coming back against these guys! Watson
says. I dont think you can do it! I think its
It was pure fire and brimstone. The JV Vikings have learned
that if theres one thing their new coach can do, its
preach. Now, with the season over, Watsons focus is fully
on the gospel.
And, to think, he could have been making $200,000 playing
basketball overseas this year.
Its a tough one to swallow, says Antonio
Frazier, Watsons cousin and close friend. I think
the biggest shocker was not the money but that he was walking
away from basketball. To see someone put that much time and
energy into something and then walk away in one day, its
On that Wednesday evening in September, Michael Watson was
going through intense prayer time in his lavish apartment on
the beach in Istanbul, Turkey.
Two weeks before, he had just signed the most lucrative contract
of his short career, which had sent him to Poland, France,
Italy and Puerto Rico. Hed chased his dreams all over
the globe, and it had all come together quite nicely.
But that night, Watson claims he heard the voice of God. The
voice asked Michael to give it all up right then and serve
him. Watson began to get emotional. He started crying. Didnt
want to hear it. Not now.
Are you really asking me to walk away from something
I love to do? Watson asked the voice that night.
The voice responded, Yes, if you really want to follow
me, if you love me and you want to do my will for your life,
then walk away.
I heard it so clearly, Watson says. I never
would have told myself to do it. So I knew it was God.
There it was, all laid out in front of Watson. He would finally
have to choose between the two lives hed been living,
the one where he drove luxury cars, dated fine women and partied
with his teammates and the one where he was a righteous man
Watson grew up in the church and was saved by
the time he was 18. While in college, he developed a relationship
with Pastor John L. Brooks at Macedonia Baptist Church. But
Watson always grappled with the temptations afforded a basketball
I remember having conversations with him when he was
overseas, Frazier says, and Id ask him what
he was doing, and hed say, Im reading my
Bible. You may call him a month later and itd be, Yeah,
Im out and about with the team. Its been
consistently bouncing back and forth.
But that night, Watson listened to the voice. And the next
day, when he called his general manager and got out of his
contract, he couldnt believe what he was doing. On Friday,
he boarded a plane headed for Kansas City.
When God steps in, Watson says, you obey
and just go. It was my first time ever doing it. That night,
it was just something divine.
Watsons return to Kansas City has been met with skepticism,
even from family and friends. Sure, they were glad to see him,
but the Michael Watson they knew never would have given up
Everybody is looking at him through a magnifying glass, says
Therssa Watson, Michaels mother. He still has friends
who go out and do certain things. I think theyre trying
to see if hes sincere. Thats a big change for them,
a basketball star to a minister. Its unheard of for them.
The new expectations dont bother Watson. Growing up
without a father in his life, hes always had to rely
on his own instincts. This decision is no different.
Watson avoids the temptations by spending as much time as
he can with Pastor Brooks. He attends Bible study on Wednesday
nights, sings in the choir and is now enrolled in classes at
Carver Bible College. Sometime soon, he expects to start seminary.
But for now, Watson is back in Kansas City to affect change.
He started by getting the JV coaching job at Northeast and
is also helping out at an elementary school in Grandview during
the day. And hes helping to start an after-school sports
program for inner-city youth.
Last week was a big one for Watsons faith walk. On Sunday,
he preached at a service for the first time. And on Thursday,
he decided that he would not play basketball in Puerto Rico
this summer. The decision had been hanging over his head for
months, and it was a big relief.
Ill be here, Watson says. The struggle
is between Gods will and my will, and for so long, its
been about my will. It doesnt mean its not hard,
but am I going back? No. Im not going back.