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Tonight’s NBA Play-In Tournament: How a shift in perspective can help our culture

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Tonight’s NBA Play-In Tournament: How a shift in perspective can help our culture
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The NBA’s regular season ended this past weekend and, while that would normally signal the start of the playoffs, this season is a bit different.

You see, the NBA expanded its postseason this year. Instead of the traditional format, the final four teams in each conference are being pitted against each other to qualify in a one-game matchup to help determine who will move on.

You can read more about the new rules here, but what’s most important is that each game will carry with it a level of importance that is often missing in a longer, seven-game series. That the final game of the opening round will pit LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers against perennial MVP candidate Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors for the right to secure a spot going forward only amplifies the intrigue.

But while the new format is likely to be a boon for the NBA as a whole—and especially for its TV ratings—not everyone loves the idea. LeBron, for example, made headlines a couple weeks ago for saying of the play-in “Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired” (that he proposed essentially the same tournament prior to last year’s playoffs when the Lakers entered as the top seed did not go unnoticed by his detractors).

LeBron was far from the only prominent figure to speak poorly of the tournament, however. Luka Doncic and Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks both criticized the new plan back in April when they were staring at the very real possibility of having their season come down to one or two games. They have been conspicuously silent on the issue since moving high enough in the standings to avoid that scenario, however.

Conversely, players, coaches, and fans of the Hornets, Pacers, Spurs, and Grizzlies—the four teams who now have a shot when their seasons would have ended under the previous rules—are, presumably, big fans of the new approach.

Valuing people as people rather than a means to your end

Ultimately, whether people are fans of the play-in tournament or would have preferred the more traditional setup depends mostly on how it impacts them. If the new rules give them a better chance, they love it. If it hurts them, they hate it. If they’re relatively unaffected by it, then they might not care too much one way or the other.

And that’s to be expected. After all, most of us are far more concerned with how a situation affects us than with how it affects other people. That’s only natural.

As Christians, though, God calls us to a higher standard.

And while it may not matter as much with basketball, if we get to the point when we see the more important issues—such as justice, meeting the basic needs of others, a person’s salvation, etc.—primarily through the lens of how it impacts us, then we’re headed down a very dangerous road.

One of the reasons people flocked to Jesus throughout his ministry is because his actions demonstrated that he cared about and valued them as people rather than as a means to his end.

He took the time to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and challenge the religious leaders when they placed their rules above what was best for those they were supposed to lead. And in doing so, he was able to speak hard truths in a way they were more likely to accept, and change their lives in ways that started well before they ever got to heaven.

Now he calls us to do the same.

And while it may look a bit different today than it did in the first century, valuing people for who they are rather than what they can do for you is still the best way to earn their trust and the opportunity to share the gospel.