Pastor to the Toyota Center

Ikki Soma


As one of the team chaplains for the Houston Rockets, I am frequently asked two questions, “What do you do as a team chaplain?” and “How did you become one of the team chaplains?” I’ll answer the first question now and the second later.


So, what do I do? I arrive at the media entrance into the Toyota Center about two hours before tipoff. While my badge/pass is being issued, I chat with the security guards and see how they are doing. We chaplains minister to not only the Rockets’ players and coaches but also the support staff.


My badge gives me access to anywhere in the Toyota Center. After receiving it, I head down to the visiting team’s side of the basketball court. There I invite the visiting players and coaches to pregame chapel. I let them know that we have pregame chapel at “60 on the clock.” There is a countdown timer that starts counting 99 minutes before tipoff. At exactly 60 minutes before, we have chapel in a room across from the locker rooms. I’ve gotten to know some players and coaches a little better than others. If they have time to talk, I catch up with them while they are warming up for the game. I officiated at the wedding of an NBA player a few years back; he and I will catch up when his team comes to play the Rockets.


When it’s time for chapel, the players, coaches, and support staff from both the Rockets and the visiting team trickle into our small chapel room. Attendance ranges from a half-dozen to a dozen. I prepare a biblical lesson printed on a quarter-page handout. My presentation of the lesson lasts about 10 minutes. There is usually some good discussion around the lesson. Currently, I’m doing a series on biblical leadership. We spend the last few minutes taking prayer requests and then we close in prayer. On occasion, players and coaches linger for a bit after chapel to talk to me about personal matters. Though these celebrities make millions of dollars, they face the very the same problems and struggles you and I face!


On my way out of the Center, I give extra handouts to the support staff and check to see if they have prayer requests. Although my badge allows me to stay for the game and sit in any empty seat, I rarely stay unless my wife and daughters are with me.  Typically, I do chapel every other week; I schedule them around my family’s and church’s schedules.


Many of the players and coaches have no local church home. The team chaplains become their pastors. The team chaplains gather once a month to pray for the team, the ministry, and also for one another. I ask you, too, to pray for the players, coaches, and support staff at the Toyota Center.