Taking a break from the serious, theological, philosophical . . . for the spirituality of sport. By sport, of course, I mean basketball.
I’m unapologetically hooked on hoops. I used to say I’m a recovering hoops junkie but Kara says I’ve have to be in recovery to be recovering. Fair enough. If you want to get technical, I suppose she’s right. BTW, I’ve written HERE and HERE and some other places on this blog on this obsession. Yes, my Pistons have been rebuilding for a long time since they won it all in 2004 (and almost won it all in 2005), but I’m hanging in there. It’s a bit easier (for me personally) since THIS GUY has had one of the best 10 year runs in the history of college basketball, not to mention, Kansas basketball.
A quick recap. Sociologists say that we lock in our values and narratives by the time we are 12 years old. Think about that.
Right after we (our family) moved from Kansas (back) to Detroit, the Jayhawks won the title in ’88 (Danny Manning and the Miracles, beating Kansas State on the way to the Final Four in Pontiac, MI of all places). My love for KU was transplanted from Kansas to Michigan. It bloomed into a full-fledged addiction. I still have Kansas “game shorts” from 7th grade. Take that hipsters. That’s way cooler than a cheese-stache. Thank God for Mario Chalmers and 2008. Haven’t said that in a while, felt good.
Ok. So, by the age of 12, here’s what I absorbed. Baptism into basketball. NOTE: though my dad’s best sport was baseball he always loved basketball most. Same with my (twin) brother. Though tennis is by far his best sport (notice the slam later on tennis) his true love is basketball.
In 1989, Michigan won the NCAA national championship. Glen Rice gave one of the all-time great tournament performances. The Fab Five would go on to alter the college basketball landscape in profound ways.
From 1988-1990, the Pistons played in 3 NBA championships, winning 2 (if not for an Isiah injury and a horrible phantom foul call, we would have beaten the Lakers in 1988 and won 3 in a row–I’m still bitter). They were one of the toughest teams in NBA history. A little dirty too. Ok. A lot dirty. But they epitomized team, chemistry, and endurance. Eerily similar to the 2004 team that broke up Kobe and Shaq-Fu.
I turned 12 in 1991. There’s no greater era in the history of Detroit/MI basketball than the one I grew up in. I think it was “in the cards” to be a hoops junkie. What do you think? NOTE: While playing college ball at Rochester College in the late 90′s, early 00′s, I worked for the Pistons (1998-2001) as clinic instructor, further cementing my idolatry. Those were lean years, we called them the “end of the teal years” . . . wow.
It’s fairly easy to asses the problems with sports: idolatry, ridiculous salaries, gambling, projection (placing all your anger on another human/athlete), obsession, and the ultimate reality that sports often leaves you empty. After reading Bills Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, I thought about a few elements to sports we ignore at our own peril (Simmons’ book is pure genius).
A few reasons we love sports. And by sports, we mean sports but I mean basketball.
1. The outcomes are unpredictable. On any given night, anybody can beat anybody–the single biggest reason the NCAA tourney is beloved by people all over the world.
2. Athletes are pushed to the physical and mental limit. As we’ve become more reliant on technology in our culture, sports reminds us that we are physical creatures, meant to test the limits of fatigue, exhaustion, and normal exercise.
3. Variables for success and failure are limitless (injuries, personal situations, aging, chemistry, etc). Every season turns and twists based upon external and internal factors that are virtually unpredictable. For instance, my favorite example comes from baseball. When you hear your ace (Verlander or Scherzer) has a blister on the index finger, you cry to the God of heaven, “Whhhhyyyyyy…this blister? Nooooo.”
4. The teams are clearly defined. You know who is with you and who’s against you. Well, unless this guys happens to be on your team.
5. Everything (worthwhile) in life is team-centric: work, family, faith, community–this is why I don’t care for individual sports like golf, tennis, etc. I respect them but it’s not as close to real life as team sport. Sacrifice, encouragement, understanding, patience, conflict–it’s all central to life.
6. The more heartache, the sweeter the success when you finally break through and win. Just ask this guy. If anyone gets in heaven it has to be him.