Monday, June 13, 2011

Listen to the King

When the NBA Finals kicked off, I swore I wouldn’t be one of “those guys” who cheered for the Mavs simply to spite the Heat. Though Lebron James has done enough to make people criticize him from afar (see here and here) and the Miami fans are rumored to be the worst in the NBA (according to Charles Barkley’s trustworthy opinion), rooting against a team--or player--seems to suck the fun out of sports and replace it with bitterness. Even with all of this well-reasoned basketball moralizing, I caved in by Game Six and caught myself hoping for a Heat loss.

I turned sour towards the Heat after I saw a video with Dwayne Wade and Lebron mocking Dirk Nowitzki. I don’t watch a lot of Mavs basketball, but while we visited our family in the Dallas I was able to catch the Western Conference Finals. Dirk played incredibly and with great character, doing little, if any, trash talking. So when it was reported that Dirk played sick and with a fever against the Heat in Game Four of the Finals, I was impressed! The Heat, not so much. Apparently Wade and Lebron thought his sickness was a little feigned and that the media blew it out of proportion--hence the video linked above.

Whatever their reason for poking fun at Dirk, the whole incident was arrogant and, in Dirk’s own words, “childish.” So I decided from that moment on to cheer against the Heat (oh yeah, and for the Mavs). What was I looking for in a Mavs win? For Wade and Lebron to be put in their place, to learn their lesson and recognize the higher road of integrity. In two words: too much.

I became like so many sports fans who put entirely too much stock in a game. In wanting “justice” for Dirk and heaping contempt on Wade and Lebron, I was acting no better than the European soccer hooligans I hear so much about, who fight and maim “football” players--on the home or visiting team--for winning or losing. All of the negative energy is tied to an unmerciful and unforgiving attitude. So I cannot help but wonder, what does my so-called defense-of-Dirk say about me?

When the Heat finally lost Game Six, Lebron was asked if it bothered him that so many people were hoping he would fail? He answered,

“Absolutely not, because at the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today...They have the same personal problems they had today.” (Brian Mahoney, AP)

I believe I’ve just been told. The uncrowned king has a point. All of us sports fans who hang our entire hopes and hate, cheers and boo’s or dreams and despair on professional sports need to get a life: our own. Lebron exercised outstanding wisdom by sending the hate he so often received back to its rightful owner. My hatred for Lebron, any athlete or team says a lot more about what’s inside of me than it does about someone’s sports performance.

Another King once said, “[O]ut of the overflow of [the] heart [the] mouth speaks.” And, “[H]e who has been forgiven little loves little.” I must admit that I’ve had a tough week and Lebron James made for a perfect whipping boy. On him I could hang my condemnation because it felt good to hurt other people when I was hurting. The times when I am most harsh on my favorite or most hated sports icons are usually those very times when I myself feel hated or condemned.

Lebron is right. I still have this aching heart and imperfect life, even after a Mavs victory. Sports is great for entertainment, but in terms of therapy it can only indicate which problems we have in life; not solve them. Jesus is also right. My reactions to these sports events are a telling barometer for where my heart lies. In the meantime I will continue to watch and enjoy sports. More importantly, I will continue to be thankful for the King who was and is willing to take my scorn, abuse, blows. For the One who through life and death revealed my hatred and then was gracious enough to begin healing it.