Bill Rieser: God, Love and Basketball
By Robert Hull
The 700 Club
Bill Rieser was born and raised in the rough streets of Harlem, New York, in the 1960s. His dad left when he was one year old. When he was 12, he became a victim of violence.
“Walked into a hallway and a grown-up guy met me there at knife point,” Bill tells The 700 Club. “This was a guy who did some work for the mob, and he pinned me in a corner. I was helpless, and he sexually attacked me. I had to live with that, and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t tell anyone about it for fear of what would happen to me or my family.”
Bill began abusing drugs and alcohol. He says, “I resorted to that to manage the pain in my life – the pain from the abuse, getting picked on, not having a father. That’s how I managed the pain in my life.”
In his teens, Bill realized he had his ticket out of Harlem: he could play basketball.
“I had a 44-inch vertical leap, which means I could dunk a basketball any way you wanted. That was my ticket. I was definitely going to play in the NBA. That was going to be my claim to fame. Nothing was going to get in my way.”
After high school, he played basketball at Eastern Kentucky University, but his drug use and attitude problems got in the way.
“I didn’t like my head coach. He didn’t like me. I was out partying all the time. My goal was to get as high or drunk every night and to come home and sleep with a new girl. Nothing and nobody else was as important as I was. I was just a person out of control.”
Injuries on and off the court affected his ability to play. Before long, his dream of reaching the NBA faded. He recalls, “It just killed me. My basketball hopes and career in a matter of two years at Eastern Kentucky sunk very fast.”
He married Carolyn, a girl he met at college. They moved to New York and started a family. He didn’t pick up a basketball for three years.
“That’s how much it decimated me to know my career was over, but I picked up a ball. Two weeks after, I’m playing in all the pro tournaments in New York City again. I’m starting to make a comeback, and I started developing that reputation again. ‘Bill Rieser is back.’”
But once again injuries took their toll.
“I hurt my back and my shoulder. My doctors told me I could never play basketball ever again, and that just destroyed me. Now for the first time, not in college but now, I realized my basketball career was over. I became miserable. I just resorted to more drinking more drugging. I started hanging around with one female, and that led to an affair. That let to affairs with other women. My whole life is now spinning out of control.”
They moved back to Kentucky. Carolyn started going to church and rededicated her life to Christ. Bill continued his double life.
“Moving to Kentucky only meant new people to get drunk with, new people to get high with, and new ladies to have affairs with.”
One night Carolyn stopped by Bill’s office and overheard him on a phone call.
“So I went up to his office to surprise him,” Carolyn says, “and that’s when I walked into a conversation that I knew was an intimate conversation over the phone. It was crushing. I remember just sinking to the floor thinking, ‘What is going on?’ At that moment, everything that I thought our marriage was was revealed to me and it was a sham.”
“When she confronted me about it, I told her about everything else,” Bill says. “I told her about what she didn’t know. I just needed to get it all out. For three weeks, we couldn’t have a coherent conversation. My marriage was over. Divorce was the only option. It was the lowest point in my life.”
Before they met to discuss the terms of their divorce, Carolyn prayed for God to fill her with peace. She says, “The Holy Spirit just overtook me and took that burden away from me. I can’t explain it other than I know that it was God.”
“When she started to speak, I knew that it was God speaking to me,” Bill says. “She said, ‘Bill, God would never give up on you, and I’m not going to give up on you. God can forgive you for anything that you’ve ever done, and so can I. I don’t know if I can ever forget the things that you’ve done, but I’m willing to give it a try if you’re willing to give your life to Jesus Christ.’ At that moment, I knew that was God calling me home. I realized for the first time in my life that God loved me despite me. All He wanted was a personal relationship with me, and I made a decision that night to give my life to Jesus Christ. From that night moving forward, God has changed everything.”
Bill and Carolyn surrounded themselves with other Christians and devoted themselves to prayer.
“The biggest gift is that God redeemed us,” Carolyn says. “He gave us an opportunity, and Bill said yes to God and in doing so he said yes to us.”
“As we devoted ourselves to prayer every day, God drew us closer to Him and then closer to one another. That made a huge difference in our lives,” Bill says.
God freed Bill from his past, even prompting him to forgive the man who attacked him so many years ago. He says, “I could never feel like forgiving him, but when I chose to do what God wanted me to do, God took care of my emotions. God took care of my feelings and circumstances. He healed all of that. I was set free that night, and that was one of the best nights that I’ve ever had.”
He continues, “God made me into a new person. God forgave me. He gave Himself for me. He lives in me. He changed the way I thought. He’s changing the way I think today. He’s transforming me by the renewing of my mind. He lives in me, and he’s changed who Bill Rieser is. He’s still doing that. He’s still chiseling away, and He’s changing me into who He is day by day, moment by moment. That’s the greatest miracle of all.”
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