Inside a small church on Chicago's west side, music minister Marietta Coleman would sit her 5-year-old son, Amos Byron Coleman III, atop the piano.
She'd start playing.
“If they thought I was going to fall, one of the ladies in the choir would come and snatch me off the piano,” he said, with a hearty laugh.
So here we are. Easter 2012. What became of that child? Now 41, he is a pastor at a church in Oklahoma City, an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma and a chaplain for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Byron Coleman likes to laugh at life's twists and turns he never saw coming, especially the basketball role.
“I never thought I would be doing this. I never thought I would be the chaplain for the Thunder,” the husband and father of two said. “Being a chaplain for an NBA team was never on my radar, not in my plans ... but I love it.”
From there to here
After home and school, Coleman could usually be found at church while growing up. Even so, when it came time for college, he decided to study political science, with the intention of going on to law school and becoming a lawyer.
During Coleman's freshman year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he became friends with a pastor's son. Within a year, Coleman felt called to the ministry.
Soon after Coleman became a minister at a church in Philadelphia, another friend told him he needed to check into an opening at a church in Oklahoma City called Fifth Street Missionary Baptist Church. That was 1998, a year after he married Sharri, whom he met at Morehouse.
More recently, just a few years ago, he became an adjunct professor in the African and African American Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma.
And now 14 years after coming to Oklahoma City, he'll preach three Easter services Sunday and then head to the Chesapeake Energy Arena to lead a service before the Thunder takes on the Toronto Raptors.
Coleman, who was approached in summer 2009 about being a chaplain for the team, prayed about it, talked with his wife about it, and accepted.
“These are public figures who need private encouragement. And the Oklahoma City Thunder is a great organization and they provide that opportunity.”
Together, not alone
Coleman and another individual serve as chaplains for the Thunder.
Recently, they showed a video clip and Coleman presented the chapel message.
The clip centers on Derek Redmond, of Great Britain, in the 400 m semifinals of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. He got off to a good start, but then pulled a hamstring. He collapsed, clutching his leg. Then, he pushed himself back up and began to limp around the track.
“With tenacity, great strength, you see him get up and he starts limping to finish the race,” Coleman said. “He's crying and he's limping. Out of the stands, a man runs down.”
The man was Derek's father, Jim, who pushed his way through.
Jim made his way to Derek. The father and son together finished the 400m.
“I said to the players, ‘In life, all of us are going to pull up on the track,'” Coleman said. “‘There will be times in your life when you're going to pull a hamstring, times in your life when you're going to hurt your leg.
“‘Not physically, but spiritually, economically, socially, psychologically. Those are the times when we know that even when we fall that we have a Father in the stands. He will run out of the stands, He'll help us get to the finish line. I believe that.'”
Gathering for chapel
About 1½ hours before tipoff at Thunder home games, the chaplains leads the chapel message.
“It's open for both teams to come,” Coleman said. “And many times, we have a full room.”
“That's a moment of reflection for them and I appreciate that,” he said.
Chapel gives those attending the opportunity to focus on the present. Not only what God has done in their life up to this point, but what is He doing at that moment, Coleman said.
“What are His expectations for you, and what are your expectations for yourself?” he often asks them.
On a personal note, Coleman feels God has challenged him to be a pastor, professor and chaplain.
And if he makes it through three sermons and a devotional this Easter Sunday, he'll still be laughing.