|(Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono)|
Thursday, March 31, 2011
The Madness to Win
March Madness made me think a little about my own history with B-ball.
And how it ended up shaping my view of competition.
When I was in high school I was addicted to the game. I practiced three-four hours every day of the summer, sometimes shooting 2000 or more shots in a day. If I missed a day I’d practice six hours-eight hours the next. Nearly every night during those four years I slept with my basketball so that I’d be holding it eight hours a day more than my competitors. (I should mention that I was never a great player, but our team did manage to win two state championships.)
When I got to college I asked a girl I really liked out on a date. After our meal, I wanted to impress her (hey, I’m a guy!) so I told her all about high school basketball, how hard I’d worked, how much I’d improved, and finally she said, “Steve, can I ask you a question?”
“What was your god in high school?”
The question floored me and was one of the biggest kicks-in-the-butt that led me to eventually become a Christian.
And that’s where the trouble began, because I liked to win and I was willing to work harder than anyone else to do it. But I also realized how easily basketball could become my god.
Then, when I really began to study the teachings of Jesus and the authors of the New Testament, I realized that humility mattered more to God than victory. One day it struck me that all competition has, at its core, self-promotion. After all, the only way for me to win is for you to lose. That means I am honored and you are not.
I was forced to ask myself, “How can I love, serve and honor someone (above myself), while I’m wholeheartedly trying to defeat him?”
Chrysostom, one of the early Church Fathers, said that the cause of all evils was ambition. The New Testament reiterates this idea: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3).
Think about it this way. A person from the other team misses the shot that could win the game for him, and my team and my fans cheer. That other player already feels bad, how is cheering over his failure a way of serving him or valuing him above myself?
Yes, I still play hoops, still love the game, but that question always sticks in my mind. And sorting out where the quest for excellence ends and selfish ambition begins is still just as hard for me as ever.