Let us do our best to keep March Madness in perspective
March 21, 2006
“Let us be able to lose gracefully and to win courteously; to accept criticism as well as praise; and to appreciate the attitude of the other fellow at all times.”
That timeless advice was offered by James Naismith, a young gym instructor for the Young Men’s Christian Association in Springfield, Mass., who invented the sport known as basketball in 1891 – looking for a way to channel the energies of young men between baseball and football seasons. He had no idea what he had started.
Basketball may have started with peach baskets nailed to opposing ends of an old gym, but the sport is now big business and a major cultural event. The annual NCAA tournament makes and breaks teams, players, coaches, athletic directors and even university presidents. There is a lot more than pride riding on that bouncing ball.
With March comes “March Madness,” the annual festival of obsession with the round ball. The tournament began in 1939 with eight teams playing in a single elimination format. Now, the 20-day tournament includes 65 teams.
Among players and coaches, the tournament is often known as the “Big Dance,” the culmination of every player and coach’s obsessive dream. At the end of the tournament lies the greatest dance of all – the Final Four.
As Gary Williams, coach of the 2002 National Champion University of Maryland Terrapins, acknowledged, “the Final Four is the Holy Grail. We all talk about how we shouldn’t judge our careers on making the Final Four or on winning it, but every single one of us wants to be there.”
Players look back on the Big Dance as the moment of lifetime achievement. Players on losing teams often feel defeat even more acutely than the winners sense victory.
Basketball is a contest of athletic ability and brains. The game has been transformed in recent decades, moving to a higher level of athleticism and a higher level of play. A clash of philosophies has often emerged at the Big Dance, with Eastern schools often playing a more traditional game, while schools to the west have pioneered innovations – pushing the game above the rim and stretching the envelope.
Christians must know that athletic contests can bring out both the best and the worst in human character. In that sense, we are about to observe a massive morality tale played out in the form of March Madness.
So, celebrate the good, root for your team and learn to discern what is noble, good and admirable in everything associated with the Big Dance. Just don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that this is what life is all about, or that life is over when the tournament ends. We are called to a much greater contest than this. (R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. For more articles and resources by Mohler, visit www.albertmohler.com.)