Bruno Fernando knows what he’s talking about when he says, “God gives His hardest battles to His strongest soldiers.”
A power forward for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, Fernando is more than a year into his most heartbreaking battle — on Jan. 4, 2020, his mother died at just 56 years old.
“I felt like everything changed for me as a man, how I see life, my perspective, my approach to life itself,” Fernando said. “I don’t think you really get through it. As the days go by you learn how to deal with it.”
Always by his side is the Bible she gave him. It’s in Portuguese, his native Angolan language, and he often turns to Psalm 23 for comfort.
He has grown spiritually since his mother’s death, he said.
Person of faith
“She was a very religious person. Before she passed, some of her last words were [for me] to learn how to forgive [and] believe that God has a bigger purpose in everybody’s life. She showed me how strong her faith was and how much she believed in God,” Fernando remembered.
Under her influence, he grew up as a person of faith in his hometown of Luanda, Angola. His mother got him used to the habit of going to church.
“Being a faithful person and believing in God and creating habits of always praising God and making my devotions, I developed young,” he said.
Fernando thinks about his faith a lot, not only when he is going through trials but in basketball.
“It’s big for me. The NBA and college basketball as a whole, it’s an up and down life. There are a lot of goods and bads,” he said.
“It’s an adjustment I am trying to make — to lean on God, knowing He is always there for me no matter how hard the situation gets. He has my back.
“Chapel services before games have made the NBA experience better, and are a continual reminder of … not just looking to God when we need Him most.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Lord, please help me’ when you are going through a tough time. A lot of us forget to say, ‘Thank you, Lord’ when we have good times.”
Fernando praises God for the opportunity to play in the NBA. He knows thousands would like to be in his place.
“For me to be one of the 450 players to play in this league, it’s not something that many get the opportunity to do. I get to live this dream, and I am extremely happy and thankful and grateful.”
Representing his country
The 22-year-old is the first Angolan to play in the NBA. Drafted out of Maryland, he said it is an honor to represent his country.
“It’s hard to believe sometimes we can make it to this level. Hopefully that door will open for a lot more kids [from Angola].”
In 56 games in his rookie 2019–2020 coronavirus-shortened season, Fernando averaged 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds.
The Hawks drafted him in the second round of the 2019 NBA Draft (34th overall).
He played 64 games at Maryland with 8.7 rebounds and a 12-point average, and a conference-best .595 field goal percentage as a freshman.
The Terrapins played in the NCAA tournament his sophomore season, and through the competitiveness of the Big Ten he was able to develop his game.
“Maryland prepared me a lot (for the NBA),” he said.
Hawks shooting guard Kevin Huerter played there with Fernando and has reunited with him in the NBA. He calls Fernando an “unbelievable rebounder, shot-blocker and finisher around the rim. He has been really good for us.”
Huerter has read Fernando’s social media quotes about his faith, and the Bible verses he posts, and knows how important faith is to him. “It’s a big part of his life.”
Fernando noted that “with the platform I have playing basketball, especially in the NBA, people are able to see through social media how much I believe in God and how connected to God I am.”
One of eight children, Fernando cherishes that his main connection to the Lord came through his mother.
For him, Jesus means love, belief, caring — “Not just being a man of yourself but being a man of the people as well. He died for us.
“We have to be able to sacrifice our own goodness for the good of others,” Fernando said. “I have to come in with the same mindset of not just benefiting myself but everybody else.”
While the biggest turning point in his life to this point has been his mother’s death, her legacy and his faith will not change.
“I have always stuck to the ways that I have always had, knowing what life is … being able to display love and affection to people. That is what it is all about at the end of the day.”