Monday, February 27, 2012

From One Anomaly to the Next: Thoughts on Jeremy Lin & Steve Nash

When you teach a class called “Sports and Spirituality” its easy to guess what people want to know. And the answer is “yes.” Yes, we talk about the faith-driven athletes turned media icons Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin. No “Tebowing” is required, “Linsanity” is optional.David Brooks’ article “The Jeremy Lin Problem” fit our recent study of identity well. He wrote, “Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports.”

Brooks certainly named the touchstones on which Lin has become a marketing success. And although they are more true than not, if you dig beneath the last two covers of Sports Illustrated and the headlines of Sportscenter you will see other anomalies abound. One has been getting the work done with the Phoenix Suns for the past eight years.

I remain a student in the school of Steve Nash. Whenever I go to the Warriors vs. Suns game, I find myself focusing my attention on Nash’s game. Consequently, I cheer at odd times. Strike that. I am cheering at times that are at odds with one another-- when the Warriors score and when Nash does, or when he leads his teammates to do so. That’s a whole lot of cheering.

But Steve Nash is anomalous too. In a league where 21% of the players graduate from college, Nash has a degree in sociology from Santa Clara University. He’s one of three Canadians in a league that has two of its 30 teams in Canada. At 38, Nash is a full 12 years older than the average player; he might be the only South-African born player in the NBA!

He may not be overtly religious, but I certainly reference him as an example of an athlete who exhibits admirable character traits. I would send my child to study at the school of Steve Nash. They might learn virtue without even knowing it.

To this point, Brooks contends, “Ascent in the sports universe is a straight shot. You set your goal, and you climb toward greatness. But ascent in the religious universe often proceeds by a series of inversions: You have to be willing to lose yourself in order to find yourself; to gain everything you have to be willing to give up everything; the last shall be first; it’s not about you.”

As someone who has led the league in assists, Nash knows what it means to lose himself or in this case—the ball—to find victory. In knowing his teammates strengths and opening his vision on the court, he has made everyone better. In losing the focus on himself, he became MVP two times. Knowing his work ethic and commitment to the fundamentals, I would not be surprised if he is the last to leave practice, even after being in the NBA for 16 years.

Steve Nash is another chapter in my course "Sports and Spirituality" Time will tell if Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow remain in the curriculum, but it’s safe to say that the future Hall of Famer and anomaly that is Steve Nash is in there to stay.

Photo Credits

Tebow and Lin
Steve Nash
Mr. Canada

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