2016 NBA Playoffs: God’s Team is Your Team

(PHOTO: KYLE TERADA/USA TODAY SPORTS)

(PHOTO: KYLE TERADA/USA TODAY SPORTS)

As we watch the Golden State Warriors attempt to win back-to-back NBA championships, its easy to admire their unselfish nature, free-flowing style, and healthy sense of perspective.  For fans of basketball, its exciting and for coaches of the game, its inspiring. How many of us strive to have a team like that?  And to top it off, as we witnessed in last year’s run to the title (see Christian Today), it’s also a team sprinkled with Christians.  Christians who don’t tout their faith as some magic elixir for winning basketball games, but just solid, faith-filled men who allow God to work through them – within their team and as a witness to those observing from the outside.  For many, it often stirs the questions, “Are they winning because they’re Christians?  Are they being exceptionally blessed by God because Steph Curry writes a Bible verse on his shoes?” (see Stephen Curry’s Shoes for that interesting story).  Sadly, many of us want to believe that.  We want to believe that if we simply honor God with all we do, He will bless us – in the ways that we want. But I think the more significant message in watching the Warriors and observing the Christians on their team, is that God works through and in the lives and careers and the teams of all of His children. The Warriors are not “God’s Team,” they’re simply a championship team on which several players have allowed God’s influence to be displayed through their work.

BASKETBALL – Evidence

One simple example from the Warriors left an impact on me. Everyone has an opinion about whether or not Steph Curry should have played in Games 2 and 3 after tweaking one of his chronically weak ankles in Game 1 against the Rockets, but the conversation that counts is the one between Curry and Coach Steve Kerr.  As Kerr has been interviewed about immediate and long-range team goals, he has never wavered in his concern for Curry’s long-term health and that Curry has handled the discussions with poise and grace.  In many cases, that doesn’t happen.  Prideful or self-centered players will push back with complete disregard for a coach’s authority.  Curry doesn’t appear to be in that category!

FAITH – God at Work

Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP

There are times when it feels like God doesn’t show up on your team. When a team is not playing well or when setbacks occur or when problems occur within a team, God can feel distant.  We all want to experience the highs of a “Warrior” experience, but many times players go through the motions in practice, play with a selfish attitude in games, or maybe even stir up dissension in the locker room.  God can feel very distant, even for a believer who believes God is in control and can work through any situation.  Doubts arise when we consider how the giants of our faith, those involved in the game, effortlessly integrate faith and worship in their play.  God seems so far away, yet in reality, God does work through you in whatever team situation you may find yourself.  Here’s how::

  1.  God focuses your faith through wins and losses – God can use all situations to grow our faith.  We don’t just compete for our own gain, we play and work for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31) and it doesn’t happen only when we win or when a player fills the stat sheet.  It can also happen when we play without passion or when we fail to help on defense because we know that our trials in life are nothing when we understand Christ’s sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:17).
  2.  God trains your heart to love others – The dynamics of a team and learning to play with and for your teammates can help you grow a servant’s heart and when the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are displayed, God works through us.
  3.  God refines your worship – Our bodies and how we use them in sport and in work expresses appreciation for our Creator.  By striving to develop our abilities as players and coaches, we bring honor to Him.  It’s not just Sunday worship, its everyday worship (Romans 12:1)
  4.  God transforms your thinking – God cares about you and about your team.  As a team experiences the highs and lows, God transforms our thinking about success.  He renews the mind (Romans 12:2) and helps us counter the prevailing, non-biblical views of our culture.
  5.  God shapes your witness – God gives you a place of influence on your team and through the impact of your team, on others (2 Corinthians 10:13-16).  How we go about our training, our preparation, and reacting to outcomes provides opportunity to impact our sphere of influence.

As the off-season begins for most of us, many of us will evaluate the state of our teams and if we want to continue.  Some may choose to move on. Some may think there is a better situation.  Some may think that other teams are “blessed.”  That’s for each of us to evaluate, but one thing I know for sure is that God works in every team and as a Christian, I know that God shows up, even on losing and dysfunctional teams.

LIFE – God’s Team

Once again, it becomes clear that basketball can also teach us about life. For most of us, much of our life will involve work.  And also for most of us, next to our relationships, our work and the state of our jobs will have tremendous impact on our emotions, our view of the world, and our sense of satisfaction.  God is at work in our lives in all that we do. Realizing that truth can help each of us grow.  God shows up in the same way He shows up on basketball teams.  Don’t wait for Sundays.  Look for Him to show up every day, even in the most frustrating work experiences.  After all, though we often look for what we gain from our work – income, status, and achievement – it all ultimately comes from God and He is on your team.

Share

After The Championships Week

nba.nbcsports.com

nba.nbcsports.com

In the midst of what would seem to be the down week of the basketball calendar – the NCAA Championships have concluded and we now look forward to the NBA Playoffs – I find myself overwhelmed with concepts and subjects oozing from the world of hoops, not to mention in my own personal life and times of personal reflection – so much so, that I can’t adequately process all of it.  Rather than attempt to spit something out this week, I thought I should share some of the stories and concepts that I’m taking some time to examine. You can do the same and see if you find some of the same wisdom, spiritual wisdom, that I find:

1. It turns out that Villanova’s winning shot was not just a desperate heave. It’s one they’ve prepared for (our team works on the same thing – we call it “trail drop”) and it’s one they’ve been able to replicate (See  Villanova Recreated Kris’ Jenkins Shot).

Are you prepared for the big moments in your life?  Does it simply come down to reactions or can you be prepared for those moments that God calls on you?

msnbc.com

msnbc.com

2.  I know it got lost in the shuffle, especially with Kobe Bryant’s last game and the Warriors pursuit of the NBA record for most wins in a season, but how amazing was the accomplishment of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball team?  Four titles in a row for their senior class? Eleven titles for Geno?  Why aren’t we celebrating their greatness and why don’t people care?  See UConn Women May Be Great, But Nobody Is Watching. Can you still be great in your own life even when nobody else notices?

espn.go.com

espn.go.com

3.  In the midst of the championships, a tragic and disappointing event also occurred in women’s basketball. This week, Tyler Summitt resigned his head coaching position at Louisiana Tech after what was called an “inappropriate relationship.”  It’s a disturbing story that most people will blow right by, but for those involved in women’s basketball it’s an emotionally charged story with so many opinions and consequences – see long-time women’s basketball writer, Michelle Voepel’s summary at Tyler Summitt’s Fall Crushing to Louisiana Tech and Tennessee.  I’d like to revisit the issue again, but I encourage you to be careful in your judgments, especially for a professing, young Christian who has a lot of confessing and rehabilitation work to do – which is true for all of us.  There’s much we can learn from the situation, but I urge you to remember God’s grace and to pray for all of those who have been, and will be, affected by infidelity.  It’s a subject on which our culture, including the Church, needs to find and impart God’s wisdom.

download4.  As the championships ended, I dove into John Feinstein’s newest book, The Legends Club.  Feinstein is a masterful writer, especially when covering his beloved ACC basketball.  This book is filled with accounts of an amazing time in college basketball when Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Valvano were at the top of their games.  For me as a fan and as a coach, its bringing back a flood of memories, but it also provides revealing new accounts on  these three amazing coaches.  There so much wisdom you can find, even though we know the stories and know the outcomes, from exploring some of the subtle influences that led to their success and fueled their incredible rivalries:

 

638275.  Never one to settle for reading just one book at a time, especially when not sleeping well, I’ve been captivated by a book on Christianity in today’s culture – a subject that inflames my spiritual passions – that I’ve waited far too long to read.  Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity may be a bit on the intellectual side, but its message is so important. How can we continue to keep Christianity in a Sunday-only box?  Shouldn’t we as Christians allow God to permeate every aspect of our lives?  The world we live in tells us “no”.  That’s troubling to me and it’s one of the reasons I write about integrating basketball with faith.

 

download (1)

foxsports.com

6.  Finally, one last subject that has my mind racing was ESPN’s airing of the E:60 special on legendary Duke point guard and current Arizona State coach, Bobby Hurley, called “Hurley.”  It’s a fascinating look at a life consumed and centered on basketball, despite Hurley’s ten-year absence from the game.  I was moved by much of it, disturbed by some of it, and somewhat conflicted in what we can all draw from it.  Does God intend for us to be so driven?  So competitive?  If you didn’t see it, I highly encourage you to look for its re-airing or a recorded version.

That’s been my week in basketball, which will conclude when our team holds items u awards gathering this weekend.  The game never stops and the wisdom we can draw from it seems limitless.  I’ll have some conclusions in the coming weeks on what I’ve learned.  I’ll hope you’ll stay with me and I hope you’ll share with others the wisdom we find!

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.  The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.  Though it cost all you have, get understanding.  (Proverbs 4:6-7)

Share

2016 NCAA Tournament: UNBELIEVABLE Ball Pressure

AP Photo

AP Photo

While the shots at the end of the game were amazing, the key to Villanova’s impressive victory over North Carolina in the 2016 Men’s Basketball Championship was ball pressure. To use a favorite term from a certain presidential candidate, it was “unbelievable.”  It was so good that words can’t truly describe how unbelievable it was. Pressure on the basketball makes up for deficiencies, minimizes mismatches, and makes the offense uncomfortable.  Any type of defense a coach wants to play – denying passes, packing the paint, zone, trapping – all of it is better with a little ball pressure, but when you are seemingly over-matched in talent like Villanova (not sure if that was really true), the ball pressure has to be constant and relentless.  That’s a nugget of wisdom for all of us! Continue reading

Share