The Faith of Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla


In an era where Christian coaches and athletes often feel pressure to ignore or at least downplay their religious beliefs, Coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics has proven to be a refreshing and welcomed anomaly. He obviously learned his lessons well at Bishop Hendricken High School when he was a student there. (He graduated in 2006.) When he was asked at a press conference during the NBA finals against the Dallas Mavericks if he thought it was significant that for the first time since 1975 both head coaches of the competing teams were black, Mazzulla responded by saying, “I wonder how many of those have been Christian coaches.” Mazzulla’s implication that a person’s Christian identity is more important than his skin color resulted in several seconds of stunned silence, as the assembled journalists tried to make sense of a response that they clearly did not expect. The thoughts of many of them at that moment probably went back to another press conference that took place in late November of 2022, when Mazzulla was asked if he had met with the Royal Family (William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales) who had attended the Celtics’ game that evening. He responded to the question with one of his own. In his typically unflappable style he said, “[You mean] Jesus, Mary and Joseph?” When the perplexed reporter specified that she was referring to the Prince and Princess of Wales, Mazzulla said, “Oh no, I did not [meet with them]. I’m only familiar with one Royal Family. I don’t know too much about them.”
Mazzulla doesn’t hide his Catholic faith under a bushel basket, nor does he proudly characterize himself as a “devout Catholic” as some other public figures do. From all external indications, he appears to be a sincere and serious believer, who makes the effort every day to quietly integrate his faith into his daily life; and, when appropriate, to share that faith with the world in a respectful yet challenging way. In this, he has become an excellent role model for young people, many of whom mistakenly believe that success in sports and other worldly endeavors is more important than a person’s relationship with God. In calling faith his “anchor” in life, Joe Mazzulla reminds the young (and the not-so-young) that faith is foundational to everything else—or at least it should be.
But sometimes, thankfully, earthly success does follow from anchoring your life in faith. That was evidenced last week when the Celtics—under Mazzulla’s guidance and leadership—won their record-setting 18th world championship against the Dallas Mavericks, 4 games to 1. Those who know Mazzulla well were certainly not surprised when, at the presentation of the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy after the game, the young Catholic coach showed up in a black t-shirt that had on it the words: “But first … let me thank God.”
Well said, Coach. Congratulations to you and to the Celtics!