2017 NBA Playoffs: It Just So Happened

It’s all about the stories, isn’t it?  The stories of the NBA Playoffs are not just about the X’s & O’s.  And while I keep a close coaching eye on the game plans, strategies, and adjustments, I am just as drawn to the personal stories of the players and coaches on display in the playoffs. It’s all about their stories and when you consider how some of these guys made it to where they are, their stories are often inspirational and fascinating – but then again, when you look closely, each of us has our own intriguing and often inspirational story.  We just have to uncover them.

BASKETBALL – Making His Mark

It just so happened that a little boy was born into a family in Sudan, a nation ravaged by civil wars.  It just so happened that at the age of five he and his parents fled to Uganda and eventually to Australia to escape the violence.  It just so happened that the boy played soccer, but he also grew – a lot!  It just so happened that a social worker who also dabbled as a scout for basketball talent talked the parents into allowing him to bring the young man to the United States where his developing size and skills were brought to the attention of scouts and fans.  But it also just so happened that the young man left the promises of playing high school ball in the States and a certain major college scholarship to train in Canada and eventually enter directly into the NBA Draft without going to college.  And while considered a risky pick, it just so happened that a season NBA general manager in John Hammond, known for making out-of-the box moves, was representing a group of new owners who also tend to think unconventionally.  And it just so happened that with the tenth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks selected 7’1 Thon Maker, the first high school player selected in the first round since 2005 (For more detail see Thon Maker’s Strange Journey . . .).  You see, it’s the stories!

But that story doesn’t end.  While many scoffed and laughed at the selection, Hammond was doubling down on athletic size by pairing Maker with the 6’11 Giannis Antetokounmpo.  Head coach Jason Kidd has slowly worked the still rail-thin Maker into the team’s rotation down the stretch and in the playoffs as a starter.  And it just so happens that in the coming years Maker will have gained valuable experience in this year’s playoff series against Toronto:

The Bucks showed flashes in their first round series, but were eliminated last night in six games with the Raptors.  Maker’s story, along with the young Bucks, is still progressing (see Thon Maker is the Buck’s Secret Unicorn). It just so happened that the Bucks brought former NBA Champion Kevin Garnett in to work with the young Maker (see Mentor to Maker from JSOnline) and The Big Ticket came away with the impression that Maker is potential NBA MVP of the future.

There are plenty of other stories from players and coaches to watch as the playoffs continue.  We’ll learn more about the paths that many have taken, the hardships overcome, the regrets and mistakes experienced, and how careers have faltered or blossomed.  There’s plenty to watch and learn.

LIFE – Random Chance?

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Your life story may not read like Maker’s, but I suspect most of us can look back on decisions, events, and moments that have impacted our lives.  Far too many of us though, chalk up our stories to random chance or fortune and stumble through our days misguided, confused, lacking direction, and wondering why we aren’t as fortunate as others – but look at your life, really look at it. My coaching career is a long list of decisions, random opportunities, mistakes, and successes woven together.  Better yet, my marriage story is amazing.  After striking out on my own to teach and coach at a private school that started on shaky ground, I happened to meet a football coach from Georgia Tech who offered me a chance to pursue the dream of chasing a career coaching football as a graduate assistant.  With a job in a school that might close it was the perfect answer, but a little voice questioned whether the graduate programs at Tech lined up with anything I wanted from graduate school, other than making coffee runs.  After turning it down and the school regaining its footing, I was offered the girls’ basketball job – a job that would lead me eventually to the college level. And more importantly a few months later when the school could hire more staff, I met this tall blonde with an incredible smile and the sharpest mind I’ve ever known. And there were so many moments that led to that moment and so many moments that led to a wedding four years later, that I cannot chalk it up to chance.  For me, life and its stories, good or bad, only make sense when I look for God.

I don’t know the young man and I have only read about him, listened to him, and watch him as a fan, but I am confident God is working behind the scenes of Maker’s story.  Whether he already knows Jesus or is just learning about him, Maker can be seen after most home games in Milwaukee in a small prayer circle with a few other players and a team chaplain. And whether or not his basketball story continues on a positive path, I know that if he is hearing the Gospel message, he will see God’s hand at work.

FAITH – Where’s God?

I’ve been working my way through a sermon from a series called Where’s God in All of This? from Willow Creek teaching pastor Steve Carter in which he describes  God’s role in our stories as evidenced in the life of Esther  (you can watch the entire lesson at For Such A Time As This)  Esther’s story is an incredible series of “it just so happened moments” and Steve does a wonderful job of detailing the story and applying it, so it’s well worth your time.  In Esther we see God use a simple and probably overlooked young girl to win the heart of a king and impact a nation of people.  It’s wonderful to see all of the little moments and decisions that God used in her life – moments that made no sense to her. You can chalk it up to chance or random luck or you can look for, and find, that God is at work.

So to quote one of my favorite Christian singers, Matthew West, singing about his own story, “What’s your story, about His glory?”

Each of has a story, and like Thon Maker we can make our mark.  Find God in all of the good and find him when things do not go your way, because He has a story to tell through you!