To be honest, I have not always been a sports fan, and I realize that this can put me at odds with some who read this, but its true. Sure I’ve enjoyed playing and watching sporting events my whole life, but I haven’t always been willing to follow one particular team over another. However, several years ago, my wife and I watched a documentary that altered the way I thought about sports, especially the role they play in the lives of teens.
In October 2009 a stunningly well-presented documentary, directed by Kristopher Belman, told the story of a basketball team from Akron, Ohio. More Than A Game centers on a particularly talented individual who played on that team, and focused on some of the elements of basketball that failed to make the stat page.
In this documentary, LeBron James is depicted as a child of a single mother, who’s future options for life include very little, and whose circumstances don’t seem to be changing any time soon. Correlations are made between him and several basketball players before him who failed to attain a level of play that could help transport them out of the arena in which they lived their lives.
The film focuses on the hard work and determination that this group of young men possessed, and illustrated the importance of the mentors, coaches, and schools that supported this team throughout their AAU and High School careers. And yes, it even helped to open my eyes to the fact that a game, even as simple and insignificant as basketball, could be life altering for some students.
But the title of the film helps to address the most important element presented in the case of LeBron and his teammates. For them, this was far more than a game. This was a ticket out. A ticket to…something they could not really even fathom. It was the means, by which they might escape the confines of the inner city, and the culture and an economic system that had failed them.
…and escape they did.
LeBron’s success in the NBA champions a list of accolades that this team received as they graduated, and helps to substantiate the role that basketball played in the lives of these young men. However, I have one question as it relates to my leadership of students in my own context.
Would LeBron James have ever said, “Ball is life?” Or was life, more than a game?
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a student share their deepest source of stress and regret, and it be about a game. Sometimes they are talking about their identity as a player, and sometimes they are actually talking about their failure to perform in a single game. My question to them is always the same, “Why does your performance in this particular game, or even this activity in general, mean so much to you?”
Their response never waivers, “My _______________ expects me to…”
That particular blank can be filled by anything. Sometimes it’s a real expectation expressed by a coach or parent, and other times it is a perceived expectation of living up to a former player, sibling, or self-projection. Regardless of the individual, and irrespective of the reality of the expectation, the pressure mounts upon the shoulders of student after student. It’s like these kids think they are going to be able to singlehandedly lift their families, schools, and/or communities out of some fundamental human struggle by hitting the game-wining three. And maybe they do hit the three and win the game. Maybe they even win it all and escape the doldrums of their socioeconomic reality. Maybe they even make it to the big show, and their success catapults them into stardom. What then?
What happens when you achieve everything you’ve ever hoped to achieve and it still doesn’t satisfy?
What happens when the ball drops for the last time?
Because, lets face it, at some point in time or another, the lights wont be for us, and the crowds wont cheer our name.
When that time comes, will we be like so many adults today, whose focus is held captive by past failure or even success? Will we be incapable of deriving any sense of hope or joy from our present because we believe, we really believe that our best days were spent in High School, and the best we can hope for is to live vicariously through our own child, desperately yearning to catch a glimpse of what it was like way back when?
I hope then, we can say that life is more than a game, and I hope we actually believe it.
For that team from Akron, basketball was a way up and out. It was a tool to adjust their future. It was a means to an end.
At some point in the future, even LeBron James will stop playing basketball, and he will determine for himself if life really is more than a game.
I hope his eyes will be open to the one who can satisfy, regardless of his legacy here on earth.
I hope you and I can start living as though there is more for each of us than a score on a board. I hope we can impress upon this upcoming generation that their success or failures in life only matter in eternity if they relate to matters of eternity. I hope I can display a level of satisfaction in Jesus Christ that my kids look to Him to satisfy the longing that is in their own hearts.
*Jeremy A Walker is an avid supporter of whatever team LeBron is currently playing on, and continues to herald him as the greatest player in NBA history. Any of you slack-jawed knuckleheads that comment otherwise will be censored. That is all.