- While the NBA attempts to maximize revenue by waiting over a week for the Finals to begin, we have heard quite a bit about the “talent” that will be on display. Is LeBron better than Jordan? Are the Warriors better because of Durant? All we hear about is the talent. Make no mistake, there will once again be plenty of talent on display in the rematch we are about to witness, but talent is only part of the equation when it comes to winning a championship. Let’s consider three elements beyond the talent that often determine champions and consider how those same elements are the keys for each of us to maximize our own God-given talents and more importantly, our God-given faith. Continue reading
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
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::
- 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).
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
I’m excited for the start of the NBA season this week because I love hoops and I love to learn. I’m excited to see if the Warriors can continue their dream run, if the Spurs can plug in some new parts, if Kevin Durant can return from his foot injury, and if my Milwaukee Bucks will continue to make progress. I’m anxious to watch the coaches I love and I’m anxious to find teaching points to pass on to our team. As we move into our second week, we’ve implemented the basics of our dribble drive offense, but since we’ll be playing with a size disadvantage, we’ve taken a page out of Golden State’s playbook of small ball concepts – concepts that only work when players clearly communicate. Sometimes that communication is very difficult, especially with players who are hesitant to talk or have concerns about how their teammates will hear the message, but we expect our players to say what needs to be said to help each other grow and as we do that, I’m reminded of the Christian’s call to be “salty.”
BASKETBALL – Communication
Teammates on and off the basketball floor have to be able to communicate – both verbally and non-verbally. When that communication occurs, basketball is a beautiful game, as the Warriors displayed last year:
That early offense is something we’re trying to replicate, but it takes everybody being on the same page. If any of the Warriors take a “me first” attitude, there’s no way they can maintain spacing and create scoring opportunities. As you take a look behind the scenes of their championship run, the Warriors’ ability to communicate stands out, but many times things have to be said that a player doesn’t want to hear. A coach or a teammate may have to get a little “salty” with his words to help a player see things from a different perspective. Salt as a seasoning can be a flavor enhancer and a preservative, but used too much or used to the extreme, it can be over-bearing.
Our team this year is loaded on the extremes. We have several experienced seniors balanced with key, inexperienced freshmen and only a few sophomores and one junior. How well we learn to communicate will be a critical factor in our season and sometimes, our experienced guys will have to step and use a little “salt” to help our young ones see things that aren’t always apparent to them. Issues like shot selection, creating space, and reading secondary defenders can be difficult for new players to process or to hear and more importantly, off-the-court situations will also require some salt!
LIFE – When Salt is Required
Sooner or later, each of us will be confronted by situations and conversations that require a little salt – salt that enhances and salt that preserves or maybe even salt that challenges. Family relationships and close friendships can be deeply affected when we speak up, but even though we may risk damage to the relationship, there are times when faith and morality will be tested by family and friendship. Basketball teammates and coaches can be more effective with those salty conversations when they consider when, how, and why they will deliver a message that a player needs to hear. If the message is driven by judgement, jealousy, or resentment it may not be a message to give right in the moment. Lizzy Harden of Relevant Magazine has some great advice in How to Navigate Tough Conversations. Just remember, the danger of avoiding those conversations can lead to a loss of saltiness and a life without flavor!
FAITH – Salty or Unsalty?
God has planned for each of us to be salty – not in an overbearing or judgmental way, but in a way that brings flavor to our lives and to the lives of those around us. We have been designed and created to reflect God’s love throughout a fallen world. Jesus tells us we’re the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and Paul reminds us that God gave us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). And here’s the kicker, many times when you speak up, others may not like it and they may not like you:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you.” (Luke 6:26)
Sometimes Christians can be a little too salty. We’re not called to outwardly oppose everything wrong in our culture – I mean, let’s face it, there are so many things in our country and in our world that we can speak up about, but God will direct each of us on when it’s appropriate if we’re willing to listen. And when He does direct us to be the salt, we may not be liked for the position we take and some people may not speak well of us. In my book, just as teammates on the basketball floor may have to make an unpopular statement or take a stand, God expects us to be salt to the world. So, let God be your guide and when needed, pass the salt!