metadiscourse on sports

If LeBron James winning back to back championships proves anything, it’s that there is a God and for some reason He really, really hates Cleveland. Akron did get a shout out from LeBron after the game, but only to remind the world that a kid with his humble beginnings had come a long way. I’m not sure if we should be proud that he mentioned us or embarrassed by his point—that we were one of the obstacles he overcame to become the best basketball player in the world. Isn’t that like winning the Nobel Prize and thanking your parents with “Look at them! Do you see what I overcame to stand here today?”

But to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, what’s so great about winning in basketball? The sport is a human invention, and a fairly recent one. It didn’t exist before 1891. The NBA was created after World War II by a bunch of guys who owned arenas and wanted to sell a new form of entertainment besides circuses and rodeos. It didn’t take off until Bird and Magic joined the league, so winning its championship has only mattered for the last couple of decades. I wonder how much it would matter still if ESPN didn’t constantly remind us how important and exciting the games are. The next time you hear a sports commentator hyping a game, remember that he is getting paid to do so. If sports suddenly become unimportant in our culture, then that fellow is out of a job.

I enjoy sports as much as the next guy—so don’t take this as implying that sports are bad—but every now and then it’s good to remember that the whole thing is contrived. Humans invented the game, the league, the teams, and humans are the ones who assign meaning to each victory. What if the Pacers had won their Game 7 and beat the Spurs for the championship? No one outside of Indiana would be talking about their victory this morning, and not many more would have even bothered to watch the series.

The contrived nature of sports is why players don’t play for the fans or even each other, but only for themselves. Notice last night how LeBron cagily avoided the question about his future with the Heat. He just wanted to “live in the present,” enjoying this moment with the teammates that he loves, though after next year he may leave them behind to join a new team. And should he win a championship in that new city, it won’t really be for that town or its fans but just about LeBron and his legacy.

It’s fun to cheer for our favorite teams, but it’s healthy, and necessary, to keep perspective. None of this ultimately matters. It’s nothing more than a human invention, created as a form of entertainment to make money for those who produce and sell the product. You are just the consumer, so keep your head.

P.S. Next Fall it will be 50 years since Cleveland came in first in anything, besides that Spelling Bee last year, which was a fluke. Why God, why?






8 responses to “metadiscourse on sports”

  1. Brian McLaughlin

    I knew last night would sting you. I still say that you have your Ohio loyalties misplaced. It is all about OSU.

    But on a theological note, by saying “…the whole thing is contrived. Humans invented the game, the league, the teams, and humans are the ones who assign meaning to each victory,” aren’t you betraying a Heaven is a Place on Earth? You come close to saying that it is less than good because it is a human invention. Isn’t that part of the creation mandate? Too much marketing, money, emphasis? Sure. But “none of this ultimately matters” might betray “Why everything you do matters to God” (quotation from Mike Wittmer!!).


  2. “It’s fun to cheer for our favorite teams, but it’s healthy, and necessary, to keep perspective.”
    I have to remind myself of this every Sunday afternoon during football season.
    Signed, a Detroit Lions fan

  3. For the record, if Indiana had won, I’d be talking about it because I would have been buying a Pacers hat. But, that’s just me.

  4. mikewittmer

    Brian: I was channeling Ecclesiastes, which reminds us that whatever we do only matters ultimately because it matters to God, not because it matters to other people. The only reason why anything we do matters is because it matters to God. So basketball has meaning only to the extent God says it does, it doesn’t have meaning because Mike and Mike in the morning say so.

    So I stand by my subtitle, and I was trying to make that point–though I see I only gave one side of it–the negative one. Probably because I grew up near Cleveland.

  5. mikewittmer

    This is the sort of stupid, insensitive comment that shows you have no idea what it means to be a Cleveland fan.

  6. Suzanne Vincent

    I have no doubt in my mind that Pittsburgh Steelers football matters to God. It’s why he created the Rooney family in His image.

  7. Mike: This morning I was a little upset that San Antonio didn’t win, but after reading your post it reminded me that the Miami win made so many Cleveland fans upset. That made me feel a little better 😉

  8. mikewittmer

    Wow, so you knew what you were doing. Nice.

    Suzanne: this explains why my Bible grades were higher than yours. Even if what you say is true about the Rooney’s, you’re still going to have to explain Ben.

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