After the Cleveland Cavaliers’ buzzer-beating two-pointer to triumph over our beloved Chicago Bulls, my youngest son, Jacob, 8, was scowling in nearly every family shot. “Why did the Bulls have to lose? Why are they the losers?” he kept asking. It didn’t help that he was short on sleep after being with cousins the night before.
Looking back, Jacob’s hoop dreams and talk of winners and losers may have begun New Year’s Eve 2013. We’d been given free tickets to a Chicago Bulls game, with possibly the best first floor seats in the United Center (close enough to see sweat hit the floor, but far away enough so a 6- or 7-foot-tall player wouldn’t accidentally fall on you). Derrick Rose was still out (injured), but Bulls forward Joakim Noah and his teammates played their hearts out, despite their eventual loss to the Toronto Raptors. Yet at the end of that 2013 game, our family of four was still smiling. Even Jacob.
Today it’s June—a new month of fireflies, end-of school picnics and… the NBA championship. Game one between the Cavs and the Warriors is this Thursday. Scowls and smiles aside, my 8-year-old has won more than he’s lost. Thanks to professional basketball: He listens to games on AM radio (we don’t have cable). He reads the Chicago Tribune newspaper (sports section). He successfully argued for us to go to dinner occasionally at a local family restaurant with ESPN. He’s learned that despite “loser” language from other “fans,” it’s OK to treat his favorite players with unrelenting hope and compassion.
As a Lutheran Christian mom, these basketball games have been a way to talk with my children about the problem with believing we must win (or be the best at something) to be valued. We don’t believe that. We believe it’s about God’s enduring, loving grace, rather than our attempts to earn temporary fan-like love. Because of God’s love, we are all winners in the most important way there is.
While there’s a certain ease about ripping into athletes (or perhaps people in general) who are someone else’s kids, we are also susceptible to messages that we must be losers. In either case, we would be well-served to remember God’s kind generous inclusion of all of us as family. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to make me smile.
Elizabeth Hunter is managing editor of Gather magazine.
Photo: Liz and her sons