Smoke & Mirrors

As an avid sports fan, I tend to keep current with the events of the sporting world. From baseball to football, hockey to English Premier League Soccer, I try to catch it all. Even with all of that, my favorite sport is and forever will be basketball. I love the highs and lows all being played out at top speed. You turn your head too quick and BOOM: there’s another ESPN Sportscenter highlight. Whether it’s an acrobatic slam dunk from Lebron, an incredible shot from Kobe, or the last second heroics of a buzzer beater shot, you can’t help being drawn in and captivated by the moment.

Amid these epic moments played out in front of bright lights and camera flashes, there is a darker side to the culture of the game. Many times, we hear stories of these larger than life heroes, these gladiators and their quick rise to power. Then just as we see them ascend to the highest heights of notoriety, we witness an even quicker crash and burn of these individuals. Infidelity, financial woes, substance abuse – the stories go on and on. Different men, different scenarios but sadly, many meet the same fate. Their pursuit of glory leaves them in a position of wanting even more. These men, former NBA All-Stars, Top 10 Draft selections, award recipients, champions… all these men could look at their mantles full of hardware and look into their bank accounts full of millions of dollars but the chase is still within them.

What Does It Cost?

This past week, we watched the drama of people expecting the worst when NBA player Lamar Odom went missing for 72 hours. We then caught news that he was in a hotel room with friends and family, who wanted him to seek help for a drug issue that he was dealing with.

Sure, we could focus on his history of drug use but that’s not the side of the story where I want to focus. People forget the Lamar Odom of yesteryear, the Odom that earned the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011 when he was with the Lakers. Yet when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, you could see the beginning of the end. A truly conflicted individual, Odom was noticeably bothered by the trade, so much so much that he broke down crying during an interview with ESPN analyst and radio host Stephen A Smith. Smith spoke on this recently on the ESPN program, First Take. He expressed that Odom loved the lights and fame that came along with Lakers glory. He loved the lights and celebrities at courtside. Odom’s love and joy was found in the Lakers’ purple and gold, and not in the Mavericks’ blue and silver. A man’s rise and fall, all in chase of glory.

Along with the Odom story, we saw Allen Iverson, one of the most iconic and memorable players in NBA history, announce his retirement from the NBA. Yet, his story doesn’t play without its dark moments. From his rebellious image to his off the court issues, Iverson was a conflicted but great basketball player. Even with his basketball prowess, we started to see his physical decline after several injuries, but he could not let the game go. So when he couldn’t find work in the NBA, he took to overseas for work, playing in Turkey and China and even tried to come back to the NBA, sadly to no avail. It was something about the chase for glory that has crippled many. Michael Jordan, considered by most to be the greatest NBA player ever, has been known for having struggles with gambling and even now, at the age of 50, there are still stories about the competitive drive. It drives even the greatest players to still chase after glory.

Reality Check

Psalm 4:2 puts things into perspective when it says, “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? “

We have reached a place in sports and life where these gifted men are now turning God-given honor to shame because they’re limiting their quality of life. They have everything in their lives contained within a 94” by 50” ft box and anything outside of that doesn’t matter. Oh, if we could get past the momentary and look to the eternal!  It is time for us to think outside of the box. Whether it’s a cubicle, classroom, office, house, studio booth, or even a pulpit, we are still boxed in when we live for the moment, when we live by placing everything within that small space. God has not given us these gifts and talents, these positions and honor for someone to say, “that was awesome!” or “You’re really good; great job!” Compliments come and go and even then, people will lie to you more times than you think.

So, Psalm 4:2 really does hold weight when it comes to putting things back in their proper context. We have so many stories of what it costs men and women to pursue their own glory. Let us now raise our standards to a higher level and chase after the glory of God. Isaiah 43:7 reminds that we were made for more than just awards and compliments.

“..everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7 ESV)

Of course, we know the great quote from John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Let us contend to make that the focus of whatever we do. We don’t have to pursue after the things of this life that will rust and fade. Let us cling tightly to and cherish the words of Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”