Oh let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King,
and recognize that there are ties between us,
all men and women living on the earth
ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood.
These words of the great singer/songwriter James Taylor have held a deep meaning to me ever since I used to listen to my father whistle the tune as he did the after dinner dishes in the evening. It was Taylor’s compassion for life and living that made me such a fan of his music, and while his wise words pale in comparison to those of our Savior, Jesus Christ, there is still much to be learned from the words and actions of men.
I’ve been a Lakers fan for as long as I can remember, ever since I liked basketball. I cheered with the glee of a tiny child on Christmas morning—one who knows or cares about nothing more than action figures and boxer-briefs—as my Lakers won back-to-back-to-back national championships at the start of the century. I observed in stunned silence the dethroning of my Lakers by the Detroit Pistons under their coach Larry Brown. I was there on December 20th at the Staples Center (though I live in Nebraska) to see Kobe drop 62 points on the Mavericks … in three quarters. Again I was cheering. But perhaps the greatest moment in my career as a Lakers fan came Monday night in my bed as I let the barbecue wings settle in my stomach and watched from afar yet another episode of the Heat-Lakers soap opera.
It hurt me some to see Shaq leave L.A., and just as much to see Phil Jackson go, yet I remained loyal to the team, regardless of their record and poor management decisions. I was ecstatic this season when Phil Jackson returned to coach again. But there was still the problem of Shaquille O’Neal. It wasn’t so much that it was hard to win without him—though admittedly it was and still is—it was more that he and Kobe, for reasons I had struggled to follow in the media, had developed a feud that had evolved into a war. Every time their two teams play, and often when they don’t, the focus was no longer on basketball; it was on the hatred two men had for one another. And as a player, a coach, and a fan, that isn’t basketball, and it isn’t good for the game, but more importantly, it isn’t good for the people who watch the game—especially the young ones.
If you haven’t watched SportsCenter this week, turn it on. Or watch any other sports show you can think of in the next 48 hours. Monday night, before the game—not one time, but several—Shaq and Kobe (the two bitter rivals) shook hands, patted backs, and even did something that resembled a hug—and for no other reason than that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
And I guess that’s a pretty great reason when you think about it.
Neither Shaq or Kobe are outspoken Christians, and the fact of the matter may be that the Christian community has rejected them in many ways. But that didn’t stop the actions and legacy of one very great Christian man from having a quite profound effect on them, one which has sent ripples of hope, love and understanding through the sports community. Jesus commanded us to love one another, but perhaps even greater than His commands were His examples; Jesus led by example. He didn’t just tell us to love one another or to act on behalf of those less fortunate, but He showed us how to do it, He demonstrated perfection. He gave us the goal of being Christians, of being Christ-like.
Perhaps you aren’t a Lakers fan. Maybe you don’t even like basketball. The real point of the day was not just that the Lakers won again or that it’s still fun to watch Shaq dunk on people, but that no matter how deeply rooted we are in this world, the snares of the flesh and of hatred are escapable through Christ. The actions of one great man, Martin Luther King Jr., have had an incredible impact on this country, and perhaps even the world. Jesus asks us to act and to make such differences in the lives around us. By attempting to act as Christ acted in our daily lives, those who do not know Christ may very well see His glory and light within us.